South Carolina regulators have no immediate plan for a pollution cleanup at the state’s largest sewage dump, but they are negotiating an unusual agreement that would alert them if contamination begins to spread from the property.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s plan met with skepticism at a public meeting Thursday night in Pelion, a small community south of Columbia that for years has complained about odors and groundwater contamination from the sewage dump.
Some of those attending the meeting questioned why DHEC won’t require the C.E. Taylor company to cleanse the site of nitrate, a potentially deadly contaminant that has seeped through the sandy soil and tainted groundwater.
The 287-acre Taylor disposal ground, permitted by DHEC in 1989 and now set for closing, sits atop nitrate-tinged groundwater that state regulators say came from years of discharging human waste on the ground near Pelion in southern Lexington County. Taylor denies that.
“Taylor ought to have to clean it up. Why should taxpayers have to do it?,’’ area resident Peggy Wise said after the 90-minute session at Pelion High School. “DHEC is negligent, as well as Taylor.’’
Others asked DHEC whether the agency’s plan to keep tabs on the groundwater pollution will adequately protect the public.
“My biggest concern is health issues,’’ said Judy Bennett, who like Wise, has a nitrate-contaminated backyard well. Both Wise and Bennett are using treatment systems to filter out nitrate, but wonder if the systems are foolproof.
While DHEC says it has no evidence the Taylor site polluted nearby private wells, the agency said it is working on an agreement with Taylor to make sure contamination doesn’t get worse on the land disposal property. Taylor executive Frank Taylor said he plans to shut down the site and he is negotiating an agreement with DHEC.
The agency’s agreement, which is not final, requires Taylor to install six to eight extra monitoring wells at its own expense. The wells would track groundwater pollution and tell DHEC if the contamination gets worse. In addition, the Taylor company will have to put away money to make sure the monitoring is done during the next three decades, if the company fails to do so itself. DHEC said the amount has not been set.
David Wilson, director of DHEC’s water division, said the department has rarely required those who pollute groundwater from land disposal sites to set up special trust funds for monitoring. And nothing in the deal prevents DHEC from seeking one later, said Wilson and agency water monitoring director Chuck Gorman.
“In the agreement we are discussing, we never said remediation is not a possibility,” Gorman told the crowd. He later told The State the agency could seek an enforcement order against Taylor if a cleanup was warranted.
At its peak, the C.E. Taylor land disposal site spread more human waste and restaurant grease on the land than any other sewage dump in South Carolina, The State newspaper reported last year. A land application site allows sewage to be applied to grassy fields as a fertilizer. But if it is over applied, or spread on bare dirt, the sewage can get into groundwater and cause nitrate pollution.
Nitrate, which can kill or sicken babies, is two to three times higher than safe drinking water standards in several sections of the C.E. Taylor dump. Taylor has blamed the nitrate pollution on farms, which use fertilizers. Several of Taylor’s friends who attended Thursday’s meetings said DHEC has been too quick to dismiss farm pollution as a source of the contamination.