PCB contamination discovered at South Carolina WTPs

During a routine sampling at water treatment works in Spartanburg, Greenville and Lyman, S.C., Polychlorinated biphenyls were discovered.

COLUMBIA, SC, Oct. 22, 2013 -- During a routine sampling at publicly-owned water treatment works in Spartanburg, Greenville and Lyman, S.C., Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) -- synthetic chemicals manufactured for use in various industrial and commercial applications -- were discovered.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) responded to the discovery of the PCBs in water treatment facilities by issuing an emergency regulation prohibiting the application of sludge to farms or landfills if it has any detectable level of impurities. Previously, such disposal was permitted if the PCB level was less than 50 parts per million.

PCBs were used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment before they were banned in 1979 because of adverse health and environmental impacts. According to a PCB background paper prepared by the DHEC, PCBs entered the environment not only during the years when they were being manufactured, used and disposed of, but "PCBs can still be released to the environment from hazardous waste sites, illegal or improper disposal of industrial wastes and consumer products, leaks from old electrical transformers containing PCBs, and burning of some wastes in incinerators."

Contamination was subsequently found on a septage hauler's equipment, Columbia restaurant grease traps, waste oil storage tanks, an oil recycling company truck, and in a stormwater pond. Illegal dumping is suspected, according to a DHEC news release.

"We must protect our environment and natural resources from being destroyed by ignorance or greed," South Carolina personal injury lawyer Bert Louthian said. In its September 25, 2013, news release, the DHEC issued a BOLO – "Be On the Lookout" – seeking the help of local law enforcement agencies in tracking down those who illegally dump toxic chemicals. "Every citizen in the state should BOLO and assist in the criminal investigation if they observe suspicious activity, like disposal into a manhole," Louthian stated.

One of the treatment plants affected by the PCB contamination, ReWa of Greenville, has scheduled a public hearing for October 22 to consider proposed regulations for septage haulers. Among them is the requirement that every hauler will have $1.5 million in environmental cleanup liability insurance in case its equipment is found to be contaminated with PCBs.

Additionally, some local water systems, such as that in Charleston, are notifying restaurants with exterior grease traps that the DHEC recommends that all such traps be locked to prevent illegal PCB disposal.

"PCBs were banned because they were found to cause cancer, immune system disorders, birth defects, learning deficits and other serious harm, so for any person or company to introduce them into the environment now is completely irresponsible, not to mention illegal," Louthian said.

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