COLUMBIA — Despite resistance in South Carolina, a Northeastern company is pressing forward with plans to ship tons of radioactive dirt from New Jersey to Lee County's mega garbage dump along Interstate 20.
Sayreville Seaport Associates has appealed a decision by South Carolina regulators that prevents disposal of the lightly radioactive soil at the landfill without extra precautions being taken.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control says it will only allow the burial if changes are made to an operating permit at the landfill — and the dump's operator says it doesn't want the dirt.
But in the appeal filed July 13 with the S.C. Administrative Law Court, Sayreville Seaport Associates says it is being treated unfairly by DHEC and should be allowed to deposit the soil in Lee County's landfill without extra precautions. The waste dirt would come from an industrial cleanup site along the Raritan River south of New York City.
It was not known last week if landfill owner Republic Services could be forced to take the waste.
Records show that Republic initially favored taking the waste and that DHEC at first approved the disposal last year — then changed its mind. Months after granting approval, DHEC said the dirt was too radioactive to discharge at the Lee County dump, which is designed for garbage disposal.
Then the agency changed its stance again, saying the dirt was not too radioactive but needed to be handled with extra care. That would come as part of a permit modification, the agency said.
Extra precautions could mean burying the waste deeper or making sure it doesn't sit for long periods on railroad cars before disposal.
Sayreville Seaport's appeal seeks to block DHEC from stopping the disposal at the towering dump. It says the agency has violated a federal law that keeps one state from preventing waste disposal from another state. DHEC's action is considered a violation of the federal commerce clause, the appeal said.
Whether Sayreville could dump the dirt in Lee County — even it wins the case — is unclear.
S.C. environmentalists and some state leaders oppose taking the waste, estimated to be an unprecedented amount — about 300 railroad cars — at a landfill designed to take household garbage. And landfill operator Republic Services said Friday it doesn't want the atomic material.
Asked if it would bury the soil if Sayreville wins, Republic said the landfill “will not accept these soils.” The company's statement also said the Lee County landfill “is not associated with Sayreville's effort to gain DHEC approval for disposal of the soils in South Carolina.”
Sayreville Seaport's appeal is the latest development in the long-running debate over waste dumping in South Carolina.
Disposing of out-of-state waste, particularly toxic waste, has for years been a sore spot among Palmetto State residents. The state at one point was home to a national nuclear waste landfill in Barnwell County, a regional hazardous waste dump at Lake Marion, hazardous waste incinerators in the Upstate and a medical waste incinerator outside Hampton. Many of those facilities have closed or ramped down operations since the 1990s, but big garbage dumps remain an issue.
The mega landfill along Interstate 20 is widely known as a destination point for out-of-state garbage, much of it from the northeast and North Carolina. It has been a source of complaints from neighbors who say it creates an overpowering stench.
A federal court recently awarded $2.3 million to six residents near the Lee landfill over the odors. The landfill's neighbors claimed odors were so strong their quality of life had been hurt.
It was not known last week if Sayreville was looking for other landfills in which to deposit the soil. Records reviewed recently by The State newspaper indicate that Sayreville also looked at potential disposal sites in Alabama, Georgia, Virginia and Pennsylvania, before settling on the Lee landfill.
South Carolina has a low-level nuclear waste dump near Barnwell that is available to New Jersey's radioactive waste, but atomic waste experts have said it is cheaper to dispose of material in a garbage landfill. Burying the waste in South Carolina also would be cheaper than disposing of it in some Northeastern states, where dumping fees can be twice as high.
Tommy Lavender, a Columbia lawyer who filed the appeal on behalf of Sayreville, has declined to discuss the case. An attempt to reach an executive with Sayreville Seaport Associates was unsuccessful.
In this instance, about 300 train cars of radiation-tinged soil would be shipped to the Lee County landfill South Carolina, DHEC regulators have said. Records show the specific amount is 60,000 to 78,000 tons of dirt containing low radiation levels.
The waste would come from a site in Sayreville, N.J., that is being cleaned up and redeveloped for future use. It has been touted as a way to help boost the economy of the Sayreville area. Much of the waste contains natural radiation that has been “technically enhanced” and made more concentrated at the New Jersey site, S.C. regulators have said. That makes the material more radioactive, they have said.
Jamey Amick, an executive with Republic in South Carolina, said last month that Sayreville wanted to ease the S.C. rules so his company could take the waste.
“They are trying to relax the guidelines enough where you could get Republic to huddle back up and say, ‘OK, yeah, we think we might can do that,' ” Amick told The State. Amick said “Republic will not accept this material under the current stipulations DHEC has asked us to modify.”