Crime & Courts

SC man pleads guilty to dumping tankers of toxic waste into Richland County creeks

Matthew Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia
Matthew Perry Federal Courthouse in Columbia

A truck driver pleaded guilty Monday to illegally dumping hazardous waste in Richland County, instead of taking it to an approved disposal site in Florence County.

Michael Greene, 44, faces up to three years in prison for pumping toxic waste into a ditch that feeds Colonel’s Creek and Leesburg Branch southeast of Columbia and just south of Fort Jackson. He dumped the toxins into an area full of swamps and wildlife.

Greene was indicted by a federal grand jury in January and accused of dumping a liquid solution that contained toxic metals near Eastover and the Richland-Sumter county line.

Greene was a truck driver for A&D Environmental Services, a Lexington County company hired to haul contaminated liquids from Richland County’s Northeast Landfill to the Florence Regional Wastewater Management Facility. The Northeast Landfill, run by Republic Services, is a large regional garbage dump located in eastern Richland County.

Greene, a burly man dressed in a brown shirt and khaki pants, told The State after the hearing that he released the toxins while “trying to save time.’’ The Columbia-area resident told The State he did not think his actions hurt the environment, but he would not do it again.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston Holliday said prosecutors had video evidence of the illegal dumping. A citizen tip to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources prompted the agency to set up a surveillance camera. Holliday said Greene is believed to have acted alone.

Holliday said the case is serious because it involved hazardous materials such as lead and mercury that can make people sick. The illegal dumping occurred in the Wateree River drainage basin. The Wateree River flows past Congaree National Park, South Carolina’s only national park.

The government’s successful prosecution sends a message to others that illegal dumping “is unacceptable,’’ Holliday said.

The material Greene hauled is known as leachate, polluted water that forms inside landfills. In addition to lead and mercury, the leachate contained metals such as selenium, cadmium and chromium — all toxins that can sicken people, fish and animals.

Lead can cause brain damage in children who consume food or drink water containing even small amounts of the heavy metal. Mercury can cause nervous system disorders. Selenium can cause a discoloration of a person’s skin, hair loss and lethargy. Cadmium can cause kidney disease. Chromium can cause eye and skin irritation, as well as lung disorders.

The creek where the dumping occurred is off U.S. 601 and Leesburg Road. The indictment said Green backed his truck up to the creek two to three times a week between May 2017 and July 2017, hooked up hose and drained the toxic waste. His tanker truck could hold about 5,800 gallons of liquid.

A&D Environmental has said that Greene is no longer with the company and acted without the company’s knowledge.

Greene was represented by federal public defender Jimmy Rogers. U.S. Judge Michelle Childs took the plea.

Sammy Fretwell has written about the environment for more than 20 years. Among the matters he covers are climate change, wildlife issues, nuclear policy, pollution, land protection, coastal development, energy and state environmental policy. Fretwell, who grew up in Anderson County, is a University of South Carolina graduate. Reach him at 803 771 8537.