Possible illegal dumping: Another Upstate sewage plant finds PCBs in septic sludge

lynne.shackleford@shj.comSeptember 17, 2013 

bubbles in water

— A fourth Upstate sewage treatment facility has detected a hazardous chemical that could be connected to possible illegal dumping in three other sewer districts.

Jeff Bailey, city of Inman wastewater treatment manager, said he notified the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control two weeks ago after a small amount of polychlorinated biphenyls – or PCBs – were found in septic sludge at the wastewater treatment facility.

In light of ongoing investigations into contamination at three area sewer districts — the town of Lyman, Greenville-based Renewable Water Resources' Pelham plant, and Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District's Lower North Tyger and Fairforest treatment facilities — Bailey said he wanted to perform tests to see whether the chemicals were present in the Inman system.

"There were some levels of PCBs in the sludge," Bailey said. "The results were below the toxic level, so we contacted DHEC to make sure we were following the proper disposal procedures."

Bailey said PCBs weren't detected in drinking water.

"We test for PCBs twice annually anyway, but I had seen the reports that other systems had an issue, so we wanted to be on the safe side," Bailey said.

Spartanburg Water General Manager Sue Schneider said staff is still working to determine the cost of cleaning up the issue at SSSD's locations, and so far, there is no definitive path forward or projected cost.

In August, DHEC and the Environmental Protection Agency announced they were investigating the appearance of the hazardous chemicals in Upstate sewer systems. The license of one hauler, American Waste Septic Tank Service of Greer, was suspended after a DHEC investigation revealed problems with the company's paperwork and PCB contamination on its equipment. Timothy Howard, the owner of American Waste Septic Tank Service, said at the time that he was trying to determine how PCBs ended up on his equipment.

DHEC documents reveal two distinct types of PCBs have been identified — Aroclor 1260 and Aroclor 1254. The names were given to chemicals when they were marketed by Monsanto, a leading producer of PCBs through the 1970s.

The last two numbers indicate the percentage of chlorine in the compound, which affects the chemical's viscosity and uses. Aroclor 1254 is a liquid, and before it was banned in 1979, it was used as an insulator in power lines, capacitors, home appliances, florescent ballasts and as a sealant. Aroclor 1260, a resin, was commonly used in coating for electrical wires and air filters. The chemicals were found to cause cancer and other health problems in humans and were banned in the U.S. in 1979.

According to the EPA, PCBs in the environment don't disintegrate easily and cycle between soil, water and air for long periods of time, potentially traveling great distances from their sources. PCBs also can accumulate in crops and marine animals, and people can be exposed to the toxins by ingesting a variety of contaminated food sources.

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