By DEBBIE GILBERT
Robin Michener Nathan The Times
"It won't be the end of this until they remodel that whole place." --
Faye Bush, president of the advocacy group Newtown Florist Club, says
she's not convinced the Gainesville Purina feed mill has done enough to
address air quality concerns.
The Purina feed mill on Gainesville' s south side recently paid $11,000 to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for violating air quality regulations.
The plant, now owned by Land O'Lakes Purina Feed, LLC, has been
grinding out animal feed at its Purina Drive location for about half a
And for decades, it has been a sore spot for the Newtown Florist Club,
an advocacy group whose members live in the surrounding neighborhood.
Residents say the plant spews grain dust, blanketing the community with
a yellowish film that aggravates people's respiratory problems.
Last August, the Georgia Center for Law in the Public Interest filed a
complaint with the EPD on behalf of Newtown, threatening to take legal
action if the state agency did not enforce the Georgia Air Quality Act.
After months of negotiations, the EPD and Purina signed a consent
agreement on April 5. In addition to paying the settlement of $11,000,
the company agreed to replace defective equipment and do a better job
on preventive maintenance and emissions monitoring.
"As far as we know, they are now in compliance in terms of air
quality," said Mike Rodock, an environmental specialist with the EPD's
Athens office who was involved in the case.
Faye Bush, president of the Newtown Florist Club, said she hasn't seen
any grain dust for several weeks. But she's not convinced that Purina
has truly cleaned up its act.
"It won't be the end of this until they remodel that whole place," she
said. "The plant is about 50 years old, and we've been having problems
with them since 1978. These improvements will help some, but then
something else will break."
According to EPD documents, in June 2006, workers at the Purina plant
noticed a leak in a piece of equipment known as Pellet Mill No. 1.
Twice within 10 days, they had to shut down the unit and make repairs.
On July 7, an EPD inspector visited the site after Newtown residents
called to complain about the grain dust. The inspector's report noted
"particulate matter on the vegetation and railroad crossties behind the
Yet the plant's own records did not indicate any visible emissions on that date, according to the EPD.
On July 10, the EPD visited the plant again in response to another
complaint from Newtown. This time, the inspector noted "particulate
matter on a vehicle in the adjacent neighborhood."
But again, the plant's records did not mention any emissions problems
that day. The EPD inspector asked to see the plant's June maintenance
log and was told it was not available. State law requires such records
to be open for inspection at all times.
On July 17, the EPD sent the company a Notice of Violation letter.
According to EPD documents, Purina subsequently denied that any
violations had occurred, "and further asserts that, even if true, none
of the alleged violations are related to the complaints received by the
However, three months later, Purina submitted to the EPD a proposal to
replace part of Pellet Mill No. 1. The company also promised to install
exterior lights so it could more easily monitor emissions, to "improve
housekeeping by removing obsolete equipment," and to hire two
additional maintenance workers.
Rodock said he believes that these steps have been carried out, though
he has not visited the Purina site since the consent order was signed.
Rodock said the EPD doesn't know whether the malfunctioning pellet mill was actually the source of the grain dust emissions.
"We just note the violation. We don't pinpoint the cause of the problem," he said.
As for Bush's wish that Purina would replace all of its aging equipment, Rodock said, "We cannot force a company to renovate."
Lydia Botham, spokeswoman with Land O'Lakes Purina Feed's headquarters
in Minnesota, said the Gainesville facility completed by late May all
the requirements agreed to in the consent order. But she did not know
if any future improvements are planned.
Rodock said many factors went into determining the amount of the settlement with Purina.
"There's a formula that we use in negotiations," he said. "It
takes into account the severity of the problem, previous issues with
the facility, and whether the violation was intentional."
Justine Thompson, an attorney for the Georgia Center for Law in the
Public Interest who represents Newtown, called the $11,000 settlement
"For a company of that size, $11,000 is nothing, so it's not going to
deter future conduct," she said. "This company put people's health in
jeopardy, yet they were not required to do anything for the community."
Thompson said she's taking a wait-and-see attitude now, to determine whether repairs at the plant have solved the dust problem.
"We've pressured the state to do its job, and if this works, we're
happy," she said. "It's premature for us to talk about further steps.
But federal law is very clear that if the state doesn't adequately
enforce environmental statutes, citizens are entitled to seek solutions
(such as lawsuits) themselves."
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; (770) 718-3407
Originally published Monday, June 18, 2007