LUKE, Md. (From news reports) -- Verso Corporation, owner of the now defunct Luke paper mill, agreed to clean up toxic waste that seeped into the Potomac River from the mill and pay the state of Maryland $650,000. The actions are part of a settlement to resolve lawsuits over the pollution.
The Environmental Integrity Project, which represented the Potomac Riverkeeper Network in a lawsuit against Verso Corp., called it a "major victory" for the network.
"This long-awaited resolution of an even longer-standing pollution problem was hard won, but, as always in protecting our precious river, was well worth the struggle," said Brent Walls, the Upper Potomac Riverkeeper. "Through diligence -- and innovation in our use of drone technology to obtain photographic evidence -- we, with our dedicated partners at Environmental Integrity Project -- have finally achieved the basis to assure the health of the river."
As part of the settlement, Verso Corp. agreed to identify the sources and extent of the contamination from the mill, and create a comprehensive plan to clean it.
The company will also have to pump and treat contaminated groundwater, close a coal ash waste lagoon, and for at least three years after cleaning efforts, the company will conduct monthly water quality sampling in the river and groundwater.
The "black liquor" seeping from Verso Corp's Luke paper mill, which closed in 2019 after nearly 130 years, is so acidic it could burn people who touch it, according to the Environmental Integrity Project. The waste contains arsenic, mercury, and lead, which are highly toxic to aquatic life, the organization said.
According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, toxic pulping liquor is a byproduct of paper manufacturing, after wood is converted into wood pulp and then into paper. The laboratory's website says "one-third of all pulping mills in the United States produce 6 million lbs/day of black liquor each," however recovery boilers were invented to prevent harmful pollution from this toxic waste.