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Opportunity to Speak up for Water Quality on the Pigeon River (NC/TN)

Posted: 04/05/2021
By: Kevin Colburn

Blue Ridge Paper operates a paper mill on the banks of the Pigeon River in Canton, NC, that for generations has provided valued local jobs but also had negative impacts on the water quality of the river. Over the past few decades water quality has improved significantly, fishing has improved, and paddling use has skyrocketed. With this said, the river's water quality has a lot of room for improvement while supporting the mill's continued operation, and new permit requirements are a good way to get that work underway. The State however has proposed a new permit that relaxes certain requirements of the old permit, and fails to address new challenges. The state will host a public online hearing on April 14, 2021, and public comments are due on April 30, 2021. Paddlers are encouraged to get involved and learn more.


Paddlers should consider learning more about the following issues, and submitting comments:


1. First and foremost please share how you use the Pigeon River and how the river's color, odor, toxicity or other factors impacts your enjoyment of the river. 


2. Color: Part of the new permit removes the color variance, essentially finding that the color of the river is normal and acceptable. It is not. The mill operations significantly changes the color of the water, and improvements should continue to be a goal. 


3. Fecal Coliform: The mill treats the town's sewage along with the mill's waste, and there have been a number of instances in which there have been bacteria levels released that violate state standards. The new permit should strive to prevent these releases given the large number of people enjoying the river downstream. 


4. Dioxin: A dangerous carcinogen that is still present in fish tissues in the Pigeon River should be regularly tested for, however the new permit proposes to reduce testing. 


5. Heated Releases: Paddlers know that warm waters are not as healthy, and the new permit should reduce the significant temperature fluctuations allowed by mill discharges. 


6. Forever Chemicals: Toxic pollutants called polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are used in industries like pulp and paper packaging to enhance water-resistant properties of paper products, do not biodegrade, often persist in organisms, and pose significant health concerns. The more scientists learn about PSAS the more clear it becomes that chemicals that produce PFAS should be tracked and when possible not discharged into waterways. 


Paddlers are encouraged to learn more on the DEQ Permit Page, attend the hearing, and submit comments speaking up for a clean and healthy Pigeon River. 


Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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