The Donohue paper mill: Facts or fiction?
The Donohue paper mill: Facts or fiction?
Bob Burtman

Do As I Say...

Donohue Industries officials like to say that the final decision on changing Sam Rayburn Reservoir water standards should be based strictly on the facts; that science, not the fiction propagated by "environmental extremists" should rule the day. That's partly because the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission has officially endorsed the findings of Donohue's consultants.

But the company has been rather careless with the information it dispenses as fact. Some examples, gleaned from newspaper ads, press releases and handouts, show that Donohue doesn't always follow its own advice.

Donohue ad: "The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department studied a 1998 fish kill on Rayburn and determined that it was the result of a largemouth bass virus brought on by low lake levels and unseasonably high water temperatures."

Fact: The department initially stated that the 1998 kill was probably caused by heat and "angler induced stress." Largemouth Bass Virus was not detected, though the lab that did the analysis was not equipped to find it. The virus was identified by a different lab after a smaller kill the following year. As to its cause, senior director of aquatic resources Larry McKinney stated last August that "as yet there are no conclusive answers with respect to the fish kills and diseaseŠ."

Donohue ad: "This year Donohue is investing $125 million on new environmental technology that will improve the quality of its discharge by 50 percent." Donohue fact sheet: "Indeed, even after Donohue completes its multi-million dollar modernization construction project, and removes 50 percent of the water pollutants in its process waterŠ"

Fact: The revamped mill will remove half of only one pollutant, BOD (materials that deplete oxygen levels). According to chief process engineer Charles Hughes, Donohue "doesn't have as good of a handle" on how much other pollutants will be reduced, though he says it will be a lot. Hughes does have a handle on how much aluminum will be reduced: zero.

Donohue fact sheet: "The TNRCC classifies the portion of the Angelina River into which Papermill Creek discharges the same as Sam Rayburn Reservoir -- high aquatic life use. Based on thorough engineering studies, it has been proven that the appropriate designation for this portion of the river is Intermediate Aquatic Life Use."

Fact: Donohue commissioned only one engineering study, the thoroughness of which has been questioned by staff at both TNRCC and TPWD. Nothing has been "proven," as TNRCC field investigator Jo English so tacitly demonstrated in a memo after reviewing the study: "The documentation furnished by [the mill] does not support their conclusion that a downgrade to Intermediate Aquatic Life Use designation is warranted."

Donohue fact sheet: "Pollutants are not selective. If the water was polluted and led to the fish kill, other species would have been affected. Only largemouth bass were involved in the kill."

Fact: This is specious and decidedly unscientific reasoning. Largemouth Bass Virus affects only largemouth bass. The virus is caused by stress, and poor water quality can be a stress factor. Different species can have dramatically different levels of tolerance to pollutants. In addition, other species have been found with Epistylus lesions. According to a TPWD press release, "Epistylus is most often associated with conditions of poor water quality."


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