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Release Date: 02/23/1999
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Friday approved a wastewater discharge permit that will require the S.D. Warren paper mill in Westbrook, Maine to reduce dioxin discharges into the Presumpscot River to non-detectable levels.

The permit - the first in the country to be issued by EPA under its new effluent limits for paper and pulp mills - requires the Westbrook paper mill to immediately eliminate detectable discharges of dioxin and a dozen other chlorinated organic compounds from its wastewater discharges.

Although the conditions of the permit immediately prohibit the discharge of dioxin, compliance by the 144-year-old paper mill is not expected until December 2000. The delay is necessary because the paper mill will have to change its manufacturing process - specifically, by eliminating the use of elemental chlorine in its bleaching process - to comply with EPA's stricter effluent limits. The effluent limits are included in EPA's new Pulp and Paper Cluster Rule, which was promulgated last year.

Once the company's permit becomes effective in 30 days, EPA will issue a legally-binding administrative order requiring the paper mill to come into compliance with the new effluent limits by December 31, 2000.

The administrative order also will include language that would allow S.D. Warren to have an additional year to come into compliance - extending the deadline to December 31, 2001 - should the company voluntarily commit to take immediate action to address long-standing odor problems from the mill's wastewater treatment plant. Addressing the odor problem would also significantly reduce pollutant loadings to the company's wastewater treatment facility and the river.

The administrative order will give the paper mill until the end of this year to commit either to the odor improvements or compliance with the Cluster Rule by the December 31, 2000 deadline. The order will require necessary equipment purchases before the end of the year.

"These agreements will lead to further improvements in both the water quality of the Presumpscot River and the health of the fish who live in the river," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "While we know S.D. Warren cannot comply with tougher effluent limits immediately, we do have a sound and reasonable strategy in place to make sure they come into compliance soon. We're also leaving the door open for the paper mill to address a long-standing odor problem that affects a large number of residents in the Portland-Westbrook area."

DeVillars praised the state's oldest paper mill for upgrading its pulping process in 1989, which resulted in sustantially reduced pollutant loadings from the mill, particularly in terms of the amounts of elemental chlorine used for bleaching. The new process, along with the hardwood species used at the mill, has resulted in very low dioxin concentrations in fish caught downstream from the mill. A fish consumption advisory for the Presumpscot River was lifted in 1992.