Federal, state and local agencies are investigating after toxic materials containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were dumped into Upstate sewer systems.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control said PCBs have been found through the treatment process at Renewable Water Resources’ Pelham Road wastewater treatment facility, and at two other publicly owned water treatment utilities — Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District and the town of Lyman.
ReWa believes it has contained the PCBs and is working with DHEC and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to determine how to dispose of the hazardous materials, said ReWa Executive Director Ray Orvin.
ReWa has tested and found “no adverse impact on our customers, downstream users, or our biosolids program,” Orvin said.
The utility hasn’t been able to determine where or how the PCBs entered the sewer system, but through testing upstream users utility officials believe they may have isolated one location where someone could have dumped the banned substances into a grease trap, Orvin said.
Orvin called it unique that PCBs would show up nowadays in their system. The EPA doesn’t require them to test regularly for them because they have been banned for so long, he said.
The chemicals that were once used as coolants and lubricants in transformers, capacitors and other electrical equipment have been banned since 1979 and have been linked to cancer.
ReWa first noticed the presence of PCBs in its treatment facility in January when it was conducting its annual tests, Orvin said. The amount of PCBs began to build up in the following months, he said.
ReWa has isolated 1.5 million gallons of wastewater in three storage tanks since May and is working with DHEC and the EPA to determine the best way to dispose of the materials, he said.
It also has tested fields where ReWa applies biosolids and stopped applying on fields in late April as a precaution, he said.
“We’re doing our best to work with the farming community as well as with the regulators in law enforcement because we want to find these people,” Orvin said.
The toxins often attach to solid materials so each utility was able to collect and isolate biosolids to remove them from the treatment process, according to DHEC.
“This is a situation caused by others illegally discharging into our system,” said Lyman Mayor Rodney Turner. “There will be a significant cost associated with this cleanup and we are hopeful that those who created this situation will be held responsible to the fullest extent possible.”
The toxic waste was found at the Fairforest and Lower North Tyger River treatment facilities in the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District, said Sue Schneider, its general manager.
Schneider called them isolated incidents of illegal dumping that haven’t had an adverse affect on the water or sewer customers.
The health department asked the community to report any suspicious activities they see or may have seen near a manhole, septage receiving facility or other locations that deliver wastewater to a treatment facility.
Orvin said it’s possible that someone is dumping into a stream or river, but they haven’t found that through testing.