SC--After Spill, County Must Deal with Cleanup Costs : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

[Fair Use: For Education and Research Only]

Posted at 8:03 a.m. EST Monday, March 13, 2000

After spill, Lexington must deal with cleanup costs

A chemical spill that shut down a Lexington County sewer treatment plant could be a hard hit on department with a limited budget. The cleanup costs for county sewer officials have reached $100,000, but that could easily triple, officials said. Joe Owens, chairman of the sewer commission calls the expense burdensome for an agency with a $4.2 million annual budget.

County sewer officials are pondering whether it's simpler, cheaper and safer to permanently shut down the contaminated plant instead of cleaning it up.

"We're as big a victim as anybody else," Owens said.

The alternative is to replace the closed plant and a companion facility with a $7.5 million line sending wastewater to a regional treatment plant in Cayce.

If the plant remains closed, it would be the first in South Carolina to be closed permanently by contamination, state officials say. The plant handled half of the 500,000 gallons of sewage generated daily by 2,500 homes and businesses.

"There's no plant anywhere in this area that could have absorbed it," said Bill Bull, executive director of the county Joint Municipal Water and Sewer Commission.

The waste from the spill is a soup of industrial solvents that overpowered the plant, leaked into waterways to kill hundreds of fish and made drinking water unsafe.

Sewer plants sometimes are closed temporarily by industrial spills, but those messes are cleaned up.

The plant is a half-mile from Tin Products, the industrial chemical maker that sewer officials say caused the spill. Company lawyers deny any fault for the fish kills that resulted. But one company manager told sewer officials that chemicals similar to those found in the spill apparently were emitted from the facility.

In a Feb. 17 letter, Tin Products plant manager Melanie Purvis reported "we can only assume" that the chemicals were discharged a few days earlier in unknown levels without being pretreated. She stopped short of saying that caused the fish kill.

County officials want to recover cleanup costs from Tin Products, but that could take years.

As a safeguard for their remaining plant, county sewer officials oppose a bid by the company to resume sending treated sewage into county lines.

State environmental officials are trying to determine the ultimate danger to people and animals. So far, people are warned to stay out of a 12-mile stretch of Red Bank and Congaree creeks and ponds fed by them.

The long-term outlook is unclear, mainly because no one is sure what's in the spill.

"We're a long way from making any judgment as to how safe it is," Owens said.

That uncertainty means homes and businesses will draw water from Lake Murray instead.

"We have no idea when we'll be back on line," City Manager John Sharpe said.

-- (, March 13, 2000

Moderation questions? read the FAQ