COLUMBIA, SC — The South Carolina town of Timmonsville has for years put residents’ health at risk by improperly discharging raw sewage and wastewater, the federal government said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Florence, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency asked a federal court to order the town to address what it said were violations of the Clean Water Act. Some of those problems include failing to properly clean sand filters, causing partially treated wastewater to overflow and ultimately flow into surrounding swamps and rivers.
A collapsed sewer line downtown has also caused untreated sewage to back up into several buildings and has eroded some streets, the lawsuit said.
Untreated wastewater can contain viruses and parasites, causing health problems from sore throats and stomach cramps to cholera, dysentery and hepatitis, the agency noted in the lawsuit.
The town also is accused of not putting enough chlorine into its drinking water, a problem the EPA said can lead to people getting sick from bacteria that otherwise would have been killed off by the chemical additive.
Timmonsville has long violated state and federal clean water policies and has failed to comply with orders to correct problems, the EPA said. The town has already paid more than $43,000 in federal penalties after being cited by the EPA for failing to comply with permit requirements or perform work necessary for new permit approval, such as removing sludge that had accumulated in a lagoon, the agency said.
In all, the town improperly discharged more than 2 million gallons of wastewater into nearby bodies of water, according to the lawsuit.
Timmonsville residents are set to vote later this month on a proposal to transfer the town’s water management to the city of Florence, from which the town currently buys some of its water.
In its lawsuit, the EPA lays out hundreds of dates on which it says Timmonsville violated various portions of the Clean Water Act. Each violation is subject to penalties of up to $37,500 per day, meaning that the town could face tens of millions of dollars in fines.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Timmonsville has a population of 2,320.
Town officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.