Anthony Timberlands mitigates sawmill pollution, state monitoring Malvern creeks

MALVERN — Anthony Timberlands is implementing a plan under state oversight to address the release of chemicals from its sawmill in Malvern that fouled two creeks that flow into the Ouachita River, state officials said Tuesday.

Officials at a public meeting emphasized that cleanup efforts are being conducted by Anthony Timberlands and testing shows improvement in soil and water quality, though pollution in some areas exceeds normal ranges.

Representatives from the Arkansas Department of Energy, Division of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), the state Department of Health, the state Department of Agriculture and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission provided updates on the ‘pollution incident’ in Malvern’s Town and Chatman creeks during a crowded meeting at Arkansas State University’s Three Rivers Campus.

Attendees and ranchers expressed concerns about water that may have sickened and in some cases killed cattle that drank from the polluted creeks.

Some cattle ranchers contend they wereare being blacklisted by area meat processors because of a lack of clarity from state officials that livestock raised in the area are safe to consume.

“In February of 2022, we got an online complaint that admittedly, was not followed up on by our agency,” said Alan York, associate director of the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment, Division of Environmental Quality. “It really showed a failure of our system … and we are working to address that so it doesn’t happen in the future, so every complaint is followed up on.”

After reports of foul odors and an oily sheen on water in Chatman and Town creeks was reported last year, investigators determined hydraulic oil had been released from the Anthony Timberlands sawmill.

“Anthony Timberlands, for their operations to continue in the manner that they currently exist, are going to have to get multiple additional water permits and land permits,” York said Tuesday.

“We also have a particular circumstance where [a ditch in the area] is particularly prone to sanitary sewer overflows … so we have instituted additional oversight of the Malvern sewer collection system and are requiring additional downstream testing.”

The latest water sample results are promising, York said. The state Department of Health reviewed data from Malvern for potential health risks and determined there was no significant contamination.

“Based on the data that we have reviewed and analyzed, we did not find any elevated levels of contamination for either heavy metals or hydrocarbons,” said Jennifer Dillaha, director and state health officer for the Arkansas Department of Health.

“So we don’t have a concern now that the event from a drinking water or water contact point of view, will cause adverse health effects in the general population,” she said.

The state approved Anthony Timberlands’ remediation and maintenance plan on Jan. 17, and the company has updated the ADEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on efforts to address the discharges since October.

Anthony Timberlands contracted with TAS Environmental Services, LP for cleanup efforts last year and consulted with Little Rock-based ECCI as a third party environmental contractor to assist with the company’s remediation and maintenance plan. Anthony Timberlands “paused” operations at the mill in January but has since reopened, Anthony said at Tuesday’s meeting.