The billionaire’s paper mill in Catawba, South Carolina has been stinking up the town for years. And according to Reuters, it’s one of the biggest polluters in the U.S.
The paper mill, owned by an investment group led by Kraft called New-Indy, spews out toxins including hydrogen sulfide, which not only smells like rotten eggs but can cause health issues ranging from headaches, eye and skin irritation, and nausea all the way to death.
Since last year, New-Indy has ramped up containerboard production. Kraft himself made most of his fortune in paper products prior to buying the Patriots and turning them into the NFL’s most hated—and second-most lucrative—franchise. The ramp-up in production at New-Indy has surely made Robert Kraft, who is worth $6.9 billion and is one of the world’s richest sports team owners, that much richer. In May, he bought a $43 million mansion in the Hamptons. Next month, the Rolling Stones will play a private show for him and his friends. (Some of those friends were nice enough to gift Kraft a Bentley convertible for his 80th birthday in what is, I assume, the rich person version of a $20 bottle of wine.)
Meanwhile, locals are suffering from the plant’s pollution. Since March, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has gotten a stunning 30,000 complaints about the plant. Yet regulators haven’t taken any action against the plant or its owners. Kraft saw more fallout from Spygate and Deflategate, with those scandals costing the Patriots a combined $1.25 million in NFL fines, than he has ruining Catawba’s air quality.
“We feel like we’re being poisoned and gassed in our homes,” Karen Reilly, who lives seven miles (11 kilometers) from the plant, told the Daily Beast last month.
Environmental Protection Agency inspectors recorded hydrogen sulfide levels as high as 15,900 parts per billion near the plant in April, Reuters found. The gas can begin taking a toll on breathing and causing migraines and nausea from prolonged exposure to concentrations as low as 2,000 parts per billion.
Kraft’s New-Indy bought the Catawba paper mill from Resolute Forest Products in December 2018 and converted it from producing coated paper for magazines to making containerboard used to make cardboard boxes. The company finished the transformation late last year.
According to disclosures with the EPA examined by Reuters, the mill is also pumping out alarming amounts of soot, which has been linked to heart and lung disease, worsening respiratory conditions like asthma and bronchitis, and even birth defects.
New-Indy’s most recent stack test in 2020 spewed out up to 300 pounds (136 kilograms) of particulate matter pollution, which is 50 times more pollution than other large U.S. paper mills. On average, it produced 36% more pollution last year than it did under the previous owners in 2016. The facility’s largest boiler emitted particulate matter at a rate of 157 pounds (71 kilograms) per hour on average, peaking at 282 pounds (128 kilograms) per hour.
Residents have launched three federal civil lawsuits against the company over the plant’s foul-smelling and toxic emissions. The most recent suit, filed in June, said 740 complaints mentioning nausea have been filed, as have 650 headaches, 370 about nose or throat irritation, and 360 about eye irritation. Others have reported coughing, difficulty breathing, asthma attacks, and dizziness. Many also complained of the inescapable rank odor getting into their houses. [Editor’s note: This is much like the festering smell of mediocrity that hovers over the Tom Brady-less Patriots, not that I’m bitter, hahaha, what, why would you even suggest that?? Anyways, the air pollution issue is obviously a much more serious issue and dangerous to human health.]
“We are prisoners,” one resident said, “in our own smelly home.”