South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Georgetown History: 'Smell that? It’s bread and butter'
February 21st, 2018

By Tommy Howard, South Stand News

DITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth in a series of articles on Lee Brockington's OLLI lectures featuring the history of Georgetown County.

Trees, trees, trees …

Everywhere you look in Georgetown County, it seems, there are trees.

When Europeans first came to North America, the vast timberlands attracted them. The tall pine trees were so highly valued that in neighboring Williamsburg County, one of the towns got its name from the fact that the British Royal Navy prized its pines and no one else could cut certain ones – they were the “King’s Trees.”

During her four-week class on the history of Georgetown County, Lee Brockington often talked about natural resources, including trees. She is a senior interpreter for Hobcaw Barony, which is owned by the private Belle W. Baruch Foundation. Classes were held at the Hobcaw Discovery Center.

Naval stores were a tremendous resource going back to Colonial times. The timber itself was valuable, but so was resin, turpentine, pitch and more.

She explained that after the Civil War and Reconstruction, rice was still produced but not in the great quantities as before the war.

In the late 1800s and the first third of the 1900s, the trees were cut for lumber. Hundreds of lumber schooners carried millions of board feet of lumber to the North and to international locations.

After major fires at Atlantic Coast Lumber Company and the 1929 stock market crash, harsh times came to Georgetown County.

Then, lo and behold, a group of investors formed what grew into a part of International Paper Co.

“Ethical” and “Most Admired”

Over the past month, International Paper Co. announced that it has been recognized twice with significant honors.

In mid-January 2018, Fortune magazine named IP to a list of the “World’s Most Admired Companies.” That’s the 15th time in 16 years the paper company has been so honored.

The magazine scores companies based on their employees, quality of management; social responsibility to the community and the environment; innovativeness; quality of products or services; wise use of corporate assets; financial soundness; long-term investment value; and effectiveness in doing business globally.

IP has about 52,000 employees worldwide. In Georgetown County, about 600 people work in the mill and another 150 or so work at the container (box) plant.

On Feb. 12, the company announced that the Ethisphere Institute included IP in its worldwide list of most ethical companies.

"As a company, we value character as much as capability. We look for all our 52,000 employees across the globe who not only have talent, skills and work ethic, but who also are dedicated to the principle of doing the right things, in the right ways, for the right reasons, all of the time. This is the IPWay," Mark Sutton, chairman and CEO, said. This is the 12th consecutive year that IP has received this recognition.

Bread and Butter

During her fourth and final class on Georgetown County history, Brockington noted there have been questions and concerns at times about the paper mill.

Visitors and tourists for many years would complain about the odor emanating from the smokestacks of the paper mill.

Locals would often say something like, “All I smell is bread and butter.” Hundreds of people worked in the paper mill, the box plant, lumber yard and woodlands division. Many others worked for privately-owned pulpwood loggers, tree-farm owners and in other forest-related businesses. They all recognized that IP was a major economic engine for Georgetown and surrounding counties.

Dioxin in the water

Also, Brockington noted, there was a time around 1990 when the mill was shut down for almost a year for major upgrades.

That came from problems with releases of dioxin into the Sampit River and a resultant fish kill.

“All sorts of research was done,” Brockington said. “There were fish kills, three-eyed fish,” and some women had miscarriages.

Dioxin is a by-product of using bleach to whiten pulp in paper mills.

“Up until two years before an EPA report,” Alec Tuten, a docent for Habcaw Barony, said, “scientific instruments didn’t detect dioxin. All kinds of manufacturing used chlorine.”

In the late 1980s the Georgetown County League of Women Voters and the S.C. Environmental Law Project appealed permits issued to International Paper Co. by the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA studied the effluent from the country’s 104 bleached paper mills. The study found that the Georgetown Mill had the highest discharge level in the country. It was estimated at 800 parts per quadrillion.

Appeals, more studies and adjustments to standards and permitted levels followed.

“During the time we were working to get out of the EPA restraints,” Tuten said, “they found they could create and make chlorine dioxide. That is not dioxin,” he said.

It was during this time, between 1991 and 1992, that the local paper mill was shut down for less than a year, Tuten said.

That "bread and butter" comment about the odor from the mill -- it resulted in a “reconfiguration” of the mill 10 years before, Tuten said. During the reconfiguration, “the mill never closed.”

When the mill reopened in 1992 with the new equipment and processes in place, Tuten and Brockington told the group, the discharge levels were much lower. A fact sheet on the SCELP website says that by 1992 the permitted level was set at 27 ppq and the local mill later reduced its discharge level to 10 ppq.

Big and fast machines

Tuten’s dad worked for International Paper Co. a total of 41 years. Tuten grew up in Georgetown, but his dad was transferred with IP several times. Alec Tuten worked for the company for 40 years.

“The mill was announced in 1936,” he said, “and the Number 2 and Number 1 paper machines started up in 1937. The Number 3 started up in 1941 or 1942. It was the largest and fastest machine in the world.”

“If you remember the paper oil cans – that was chem fiber paper,” Tuten said. “When World War II came along, that became very, very important.”

“IP invented what we call ‘chicken boxes.'”

“A lot of equipment was made in World War II, and the Georgetown box plant got the contract for C-Rations.”

Those C-Rations were boxed up and shipped out from Georgetown to Europe and the Pacific Theater.

Tuten outlined the products for each of the paper machines.

Number 1 makes envelope grade and Xerox-type paper.

Number 2 makes Bristol and card stock paper.

Number 3 machine, which came online in about 1942 or 1943 and made chem fiber, was converted to making fluff pulp. That’s used for baby diapers, toilet tissue and personal products for women.

When Tuten came to work at IP, the mill produced 620 tons of paper a day.

“When I retired in 2012, it was 2,000 tons a day. And,” he added, “it’s grown since then.”

Source (external link)