Ammonia discharge from the Rayonier Specialty Pulp Products mill appears to be a primary cause of declining plankton species vital to the Amelia River's food chain, a researcher says.
If the findings prove accurate, the mill could reverse the problem quickly by reducing ammonia discharge, which is toxic to marine life, said Robert J. Livingston, the Florida State University professor who conducted the study.
The problem, if left unchecked, "would reduce the numbers of species of plankton tied to the food web," he said.
Rayonier officials say they plan to look immediately for ways to reduce ammonia discharge.
Company spokeswoman Marie Rizzo portrayed the findings as positive.
"We're very encouraged by the results of the study indicating the general health of the river is good," Rizzo said.
Livingston's study found that many previous pollution problems associated with the mill have been corrected.
The species affected by the ammonia are important because if they are killed off, it would lead to a domino effect, harming the rest of the animals in the ecosystem, scientists say.