COLUMBIA — South Carolina health and environmental officials announced Wednesday measures they hope will help stop the spread of toxic chemicals to water treatment systems across the state.
Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton told The Associated Press that she was issuing an emergency regulation that would prevent landfills or farmers from using sludge that contains any level of PCBs.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are man-made organic chemicals that were used for decades in a variety of industrial applications, including plastics and hydraulic equipment. Banned in 1979 after tests showed they could cause ailments including cancer, PCBs are found when decades-old facilities are cleaned out or demolished.
Current regulations govern how materials containing the toxic chemicals are supposed to be disposed of. Federal law says that any material with more than 50 parts per million of PCBs is supposed to go to a special out-of-state facility, while material containing lower amounts can be stored in local landfills.
But Templeton said the chemicals are being illegally dumped and are ending up in sewer treatment plants. The water that is ultimately treated is safe to drink or boat or swim in, Templeton stressed. But PCBs adhere to the sludge that's left behind – material that is ultimately shipped off, stored in landfills or, in some places, sprayed on hay crops by farmers, she said.
Under the new regulations issued Wednesday, material containing any level of PCBs will be prohibited from being stored in South Carolina landfills or sprayed on any of the state's crops, Templeton said.
DHEC has already been investigating PCB dumping in the Upstate, where the hazardous chemicals have been found in at least five sewer treatment systems. But Templeton said she felt it necessary to step in after PCBs were detected in dumped materials in Richland County.
“PCBs are such a long ago thought,” she said. “It's very unfortunate for the water facilities that have been a victim of this crime.”
Templeton is also asking all of the state's law enforcement agencies to put their officers on alert to any potentially illegal dumping of PCB-containing materials, particularly trucks backed up to tanks, manholes, sewer drains, storm drains, or restaurant grease traps at night.
“No one ever contemplated such a criminal act as this,” she said.