Altamaha Riverkeeper News

13 Disturbing Things About Rayonier and the Altamaha

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Upstream from Rayonier the water is one color. Downstream it is another.

13 Disturbing Things to Know about Rayonier Advanced Materials (RYAM), the Altamaha River and why Rayonier has been able to pollute the river virtually at will for more than 60 years. If the abuse that the river has suffered from Rayonier’s practices  concerns you, call or email: 

Jim Giattina, Water Division Director

U.S. EPA – Region IV

61 Forsyth Street SW

Atlanta, GA   30303-8960


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1. Rayonier has a legacy of killing fish in the Altamaha.

In early September, 1954, there was a reported fish kill in the Altamaha River in the vicinity of Jesup, according to a U.S. Public Health Service Report.  On September 12, one week later, a second kill was reported and called “one of the greatest fishing scourges ever to occur in Georgia waters,” leaving “dead fish by the thousands” lining the Altamaha River’s banks for forty-miles between the mill’s 25,000,000 gallons per day discharge point and the Atlantic Ocean. Per a consent decree brokered at the time by the Georgia attorney general, Rayonier agreed to “hold wastes dumped into the Altamaha River to quantities that will not kill fish when diluted with the river.” – Georgia Water Wire

2. Rayonier used to use kerosene to control the pollution foam it created.

In 1956, “a slimy substance” began coating fishing nets downstream of Jesup.  At the time, commercial and recreational anglers blamed Rayonier for “ruining edibility and salability of fish and crustacean life in the river below the plant.”  The slime—sphaerotilus—is a naturally occurring bacteria that thrives in waters rich in nutrients.  In the Altamaha River’s case, a combination of pulp mill waste, stream by-products and low levels of dissolved oxygen contributed to a proliferation of the sphaerotilus burdening fishermen’s nets. For about two years around this time, Rayonier used kerosene, which was present in the plant’s effluent, as a foam control agent. – Georgia Water Wire.

3. Rayonier has a 50-year history of delaying waste water treatment.

In 1966 and because a “crude slime” continued to affect the Altamaha River, Rayonier installed a primary waste water treatment facility but only when ordered to do so by R. S. “Rock” Howard, executive secretary of the Georgia Water Quality Control board—a predecessor-agency to EPD.  And in 1967 the Water Quality Control board ordered Rayonier to install a secondary waste water treatment facility, which had still not been installed by March 1, 1970, as required. All the while, the 25,000,000 to 50,000,000 million gallons per day discharge continued. – Georgia Water Wire.

4. Georgia’s Environmental Protection division (EPD) has spent a decade mulling whether Rayonier effluent is pollution.

According to EPD documents, a 20-mile stretch of the Altamaha River from ITT Rayonier to Penholoway Creek has been listed for more than a decade as “Assessment Pending for Designated Uses,” because EPD has not developed “a numeric translator for the narrative criteria for color,” which is necessary before it can be determined whether water quality standards are being met. – Georgia Water Wire

5. Rayonier consent order expires in 2016.

In 2008 and in response to citizen complaints lodged by the Altamaha Riverkeeper, Rayonier entered into a “consent order” with EPD to reduce the color content of Rayonier’s discharge.  At the time, Rayonier’s NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit did not include any discharge limits on color.  EPD had determined that “the color of Rayonier’s discharge had the potential to be a violation of” state and federal Clean Water Act “standards and to cause other objectionable conditions that could interfere with the uses of the river.”  This was a long and complicated way of saying that Rayonier was probably illegally—according to Clean Water Act terms—discharging waste into waters of the United States.  The discharges continued while Rayonier re-tooled the mill’s production lines, and they continue today.  That consent order is set to expire in March 2016. – Georgia Water Wire

6.  Rayonier used to brag about its role in developing cigarette filters.

From a magazine ad sponsored by Rayonier in 1959:

“People smoke for relaxation and pleasure. Many people feel that cigarette smoking calms their nerves. Filters apparently contribute to this sense of well-being, for they have become so popular that their pyramiding sales have been described as “the filter-tip revolution.”

“By far, the most widely used filtering material is cellulose acetate. Cellulose acetate is a form of nature’s own “wonder” chemical – cellulose.

“Because cellulose is Rayonier’s business, we know what cellulose acetate can do…we played a substantial role in the development of cigarette filters.

“Facts are always interesting – and sometimes they are also useful. Perhaps you will put these facts to your own good use by joining 30 million or so Americans who already enjoy filter cigarette smoking – at least it might well be worth a try.”

7. Today, Rayonier Advanced Materials* doesn’t like to mention its primary product line.

On the website for Rayonier Advanced Materials, the company writes: “Ask the average person what products come from trees, and you’re likely to hear lumber and paper. But Rayonier Advanced Materials employees see much more. They envision flat-panel televisions, computer screens, impact-resistant plastics, filters, tires, paint, food, pharmaceuticals and many other consumer products.” What Rayonier doesn’t mention is that the company is now recognized as the world’s largest producer of acetate tow, which puts them on track to become the world’s largest producer of cigarette filters. This product line accounts for 2/3 of the Jesup plant output, according to investor reports. Their best customer is China. You could say the Altamaha River is polluted with 50-plus million gallons of brown, smelly effluent per day to help support China’s cigarette habit.

8. Rayonier’s primary product constitutes one of world’s biggest litter problems.

The filter ends of cigarettes, made from the acetate tow that is the primary output of Rayonier Advanced Materials’ Jesup plant, are the most littered items in America and the world. Some6 trillion cigarettes are smoked every year worldwide, and cigarette waste constitutes an estimated 30% of the total litter (by count) on US shorelines, waterways and on land.[1] Cigarette filters take decades to degrade, and the toxic residue in cigarette filters is damaging to the environment. These chemicals include arsenic, acetone, ammonia, benzene, cadmium, formaldehyde, lead, and toluene – all known toxins and/or carcinogens. A San Diego State University study showed that even one cigarette butt soaked in a liter of water for a day was acutely toxic to both marine and fresh-water fish, killing 50% in 48 hours in test environments.[2]

 9. Rayonier Advanced Materials consumed more of our drinking water than all of Georgia’s coastal population.

In Southeast Georgia, most drinking water comes from the Upper Floridian Aquifer. Most coastal residents use it and pay for it in monthly water and sewer bills. In 2000, a USGS survey recorded that more water daily was pumped out of the aquifer for industrial use in Wayne County – 59 million gallons per day at Rayonier – than was pumped for public use in all of Chatham, Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh, Glynn and Camden counties combined. Virtually all of the water the company takes from the aquifer becomes, after production, the polluted wastewater dumped into the Altamaha River. It is then, of course, no longer usable for human consumption.

10. Rayonier Advanced Materials effluent discharge still far exceeds international norms.

Two key measures of water pollution are BOD, a measure of oxygen consumed by wastewater pollutants discharged into the river, and TSS, the measure of total suspended solids. The BOD in discharges from Rayonier Advanced Materials in Jesup is from 3 to 10 times higher than comparable pulp plants in North and South America and Europe. In the particular case of pulp mills, high BOD discharge is also indicative of poor treatment for the multitude of substances in the waste water that cause fish to taste bad. Rayonier’s TSS discharge rates are nearly five times greater than the norms at a representative sample of similar plants. Because of this pollution, fish can have difficulty breathing and their growth may be inhibited. Also, solids sinking to the bottom reduce oxygen levels, and the brown stained water inhibits sunlight penetration and photosynthesis, retarding plant growth needed for food.

11. Improved waste water treatment could cut Rayonier’s water use by nearly half.

The ASB ( Aerated Stabilisation Basin ) effluent treatment technology used by the Rayonier Advanced Materials kraft pulp mill at Jesup was widely accepted in the 1970’s,” says Neil McCubbin, an internationally regarded engineering expert on pulp mill operations. “Today, about half the American kraft pulp mills, and virtually all kraft pulp mills overseas, use the more effective AST (Activated Sludge Treatment) process to treat their effluents. For each ton of pulp processed at the Rayonier plant, 30,000 gallons of water are required.  A modern AST system at the Jesup plant would reduce pollutant discharge, including color, to less than half today’s values.  Modern pulp manufacturing technology would also cut water use in half, reduce their operating costs and would have no risk of impacting mill products. It would also reduce the odorous discharges from the mill complex.and eliminate the bad taste of fish caught downstream.”

12. Rayonier Advanced Materials can afford a waste water fix, but has not been urged by Georgia EPD to do so. Last year, the Altamaha Riverkeeper sued Rayonier for violating the federal clean water act.  The federal court sided with Rayonier in dismissing the case. U.S. District Court Judge Lisa Godbey Wood wrote: “The Court does not intend this holding to suggest that Rayonier’s discharges do not have a harmful effect on the Altamaha River, or that the Riverkeeper’s alleged injuries are trivial. To the contrary, those effects may be deleterious, and Rayonier’s discharges may, in fact, violate Georgia’s narrative water quality standards. The Court’s holding is simply that the Riverkeeper must show a violation of Rayonier’s NPDES Permit to bring its [suit], and here it failed to show that compliance with the relevant water quality standards is a condition of Rayonier’s NPDES Permit.” In other words, Georgia EPD – which is charged with enforcing both the federal Clean Water Act and Georgia’s narrative water quality standards  — must require compliance with the clean water act  in the permit it issues to Rayonier before the court will enforce the standards.

13. Rayonier knows how to win over politicians. In Florida, when Jeb Bush was governor, Rayonier secured almost $100 million for surrendering logging rights and property to the state. State auditors issued a report questioning whether the prices that Florida sometimes paid for those rights and properties were inflated. Two years after he left office, Bush was added to Rayonier’s board of directors and over the next six years, he drew nearly $1 million for this part-time job.

*On June 18, 2014, Rayonier spun off its pulp mill operations in Fernandina, FL and Jesup GA as an independent corporation now known as Rayonier Advanced Materials (RYAM).  Like Rayonier, RYAM maintains its corporate office in Jacksonville, FL.



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