PCBs found at Cowpens facility, one Richland site

felicia.kitzmiller@shj.comSeptember 24, 2013 

— Hazardous chemicals continue to spread through Upstate sewer systems with the Spartanburg sewer system’s Cowpens treatment facility the most recently infected.

Deputy general counsel Rebecca West told the sewer district’s board Tuesday that polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, were discovered in sludge on a drying bed at the Cowpens facility. Further sampling found there was an elevated level of PCBs in a pump station leading into the treatment facility.

The district is in the process of testing all 11 of the grease traps in the Cowpens area, along with the five pump stations, to narrow down the source of the contamination, West said. Those results are expected by the end of next week.

Testing has continued at the Lower North Tyger treatment facility where PCBs first were discovered this summer. Last week, West said the PCB level spiked at the pump station leading into that facility as well.

In both cases, contaminated sludge has been isolated. Spartanburg sewer administrators are awaiting instructions from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control on its proper disposal.

In the meantime, the cost of the cleanup is continuing to climb. General manager Sue Schneider told the board Tuesday that cleanup bids from contractors range from $2 million to $9 million, depending on what treatment requirements are handed down.

The Spartanburg sewer-treatment system is one of four in the Upstate to discover PCB contamination thought to be a result of illegal dumping. PCBs are substances that were used in various industrial and commercial applications. They were banned in the United States in 1979 because they were found to cause cancer and other serious health problems.

Some of the contamination is thought to come from grease traps – special catch basins designed to prevent grease from restaurants from entering and clogging sewer lines. At least one contaminated grease trap has been found in each sewage treatment district.

The Greenville-based treatment district, Renewable Water Resources, has identified eight contaminated grease traps through targeted sampling.

Executive director Ray Orvin said seven of those traps were linked to one hauler. Orvin estimated his cleanup expenses at from $4 million to $5 million.

Both Lyman and Inman also have discovered PCBs in their treatment facilities. Orvin and Schneider said they were informed by DHEC that a PCB-contaminated grease trap also was located in Richland County.

Sewer district leaders expressed frustration with the contamination epidemic. While DHEC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are conducting a criminal investigation, local leaders said they have no information on what progress is being made toward locating the responsible party.

“The EPA and DHEC are not sharing anything from the investigation with us,” Schneider said.

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