RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Independent tests have confirmed the East Richland Public Service District’s sewerage system was not contaminated by illegally dumped chemicals after a scare last week.
Systemwide tests found “no detectable amount” of PCBs, a long-banned industrial chemical that is thought to cause cancer, director Larry Brazell said Friday.
On Sept. 13, the pollutant was found in a grease trap at a Columbia-area restaurant, prompting concern that someone had dumped the material into other manhole covers in the Midlands, or that the contaminants had spread beyond the collection point at the McAlister’s restaurant.
Treated sewerage ends up in area rivers, where people fish and eat what they catch, magnifying concerns about the incident.
Brazell said test results came in Monday from Shealy Environmental of West Columbia.
He said the contaminant was contained to the original site where it was detected.
“This could have been catastrophic if it had gotten into our system,” Brazell said.
The city of Columbia, meanwhile, is still awaiting the results of tests conducted on its sewerage system, the largest in the state, utilities director Joey Jaco said.
Jaco was unwilling to discuss preliminary results but went so far as to say, “I feel comfortable” after tests conducted Sept. 24.
East Richland requires an inspector to watch whenever a restaurant grease trap is cleaned.
Chief inspector Danny Holland was suspicious when he noticed a black, oily film in the restaurant’s collection system.
“It was a high concentration of PCBs,” Brazell said.
Grease traps at all 213 restaurants in the district were inspected in the days after the incident, Brazell said.
Efforts to reach a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control were unsuccessful.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.