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EPA on-the-ground investigating South Carolina odor

The EPA has brought in experts and specialized equipment to help in the odor investigation.

CATAWBA, S.C. — Political leaders in the Carolinas criticized New Indy Containerboard after they said the company asked South Carolina regulators to increase emission limits at its Catawba plant despite the facility being blamed for a strong, rotten odor affecting thousands of people in the region.

South Carolina Senator Mike Fanning (D-17) said the company requested a 47% increase in its emission limits.

"They have nerve," Sen. Fanning said. "While we're investigating a real problem that is impacting thousands of lives in this part of South Carolina. To not help us get to the root of the problem, but to actually ask for an increase in emissions shows a tone-deafness."

Sen. Michael Johnson (R-16), along with Sen. Fanning, put forward a budget proviso, which essentially banned the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) from approving any of New Indy's emission requests until next year.

"Hopefully that sent a huge message," Sen. Fanning said. "A strong heavy hammer that we are not going to coast by."

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) brought in experts and advanced technology to measure air quality in the region.

The agency believes hydrogen sulfide, a chemical compound emitted from multiple sources, including paper mills, may be what's responsible for the odor.

The agency has deployed a mobile air monitoring unit to measure hydrogen sulfide levels.

On Monday afternoon, the EPA allowed New Indy to restart its steam stripper.

In a letter to the company, South Carolina DHEC said the EPA believes, "the use of the stripper may reduce the odors from the plant." 

The company will still need to submit an application for a "permanent restart."

Courtney Beltz is one of five people running "Concerned NC & SC Residents," a Facebook group tracking the investigation's progress.

Beltz lives five miles from the plant, and she said the odor gives her children headaches and nose bleeds.

"It's unlike anything you've ever smelled or seen or heard of, Beltz said. "It's just crazy."

She said she's astonished North Carolinians can also smell the odor.

North Carolina Rep. David Willis (R-68) said state environmental regulators installed two new air monitors in Mecklenburg and Union Counties.

He said they've offered to help South Carolina with environmental resources, but he said the state hasn't taken them up on the offer.

"At this point, we're supportive of their actions," Rep. Willis said. "Obviously for the folks that are having to live through this on a daily basis, we'd like it to be a little more expedient."

Sen. Fanning urged everyone to be patient as they worked through the investigation.

Beltz is happy the odor is receiving attention from state leaders.

"We're hoping that we're onto something and that we can see some resolution to this sooner than later," Beltz said.

Neither New Indy nor its parent company, The Kraft Group, has responded to WCNC Charlotte's interview requests.