CATAWBA, S.C. — The New-Indy Containerboard company, the facility at the center of a years-long issue over the alleged emission of toxins and foul odors, asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss a class-action lawsuit against the company.
The lawsuit alleges the paper plant is emitting a foul smell and toxins into the air, which is impacting homes as far as 20 miles outside of the Catawba, South Carolina plant. Plaintiffs argue the smell is impacting people’s health and livelihood.
Attorneys allege complaints of a foul odor began in early 2020 after the facility switched from manufacturing white paper to brown paper.
WCNC Charlotte has covered this story for more than a year.
Wednesday, cameras and phones were prohibited inside of the courthouse, but WCNC Charlotte’s Indira Eskieva was in the courtroom during the arguments.
New-Indy argued several points to the judge as to why the lawsuit should be dismissed, and while the judge has not made a decision yet, attorneys representing thousands of impacted residents feel like she’ll rule in their favor.
What started as complaints in early 2020 has turned into a class action lawsuit with almost 2,000 plaintiffs. New-Indy attorneys told a judge Wednesday she should dismiss the lawsuit.
Some of the arguments made included that the lawsuit is not specific enough, that it’s not possible that homes as far as 20 miles away from the plant could be affected, or that parent company New-Indy Containerboard should be named in the lawsuit when New-Indy Catawba is an LLC.
The judge made it clear she disagreed with New-Indy’s arguments – something attorneys for residents view as a good sign.
“You know people that are impacted by New-Indy’s operations are dealing with this every single day so the best way we can represent them is to do everything we can to move this case along and push the case along," Chase T. Brockstedt, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said. "Today was a step in that process.”
It’s unclear when the judge will have her decision ready. New-Indy attorneys did not want to comment, but a spokesperson for the company provided the following statement:
"New-Indy Catawba has kept the public regularly updated on its substantial progress on odor remediation efforts. Hydrogen sulfide emissions from the facility have been negligible or zero for many months due to upgrades and improvements New-Indy Catawba has made. New-Indy Catawba will continue to cooperate with the federal and state authorities. We strive to be a good neighbor, desirable employer and major economic driver for the region. Our cutting-edge technology has made the mill a model for the industry."
Residents like Kerri Bishop tell WCNC Charlotte they are still experiencing the same health issues and a foul odor.
“All they have to do is drive around when the wind hits," Bishop said. "And they’ll see – it is. I mean I’m 13 miles. I can drive seven miles away and still smell it.”
State agencies have received 22,000 complaints from residents about New Indy.
“Obviously there are other environmental contamination cases that are pending in other parts of the state, but certainly have not seen something this widespread," Brockstedt said.
Attorneys say in addition to the class action lawsuit, there’s another case that’s the EPA versus New Indy. Attorneys for residents say they are trying to intervene with that case so they can be more involved in decisions that are made.