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DHEC Investigating Toxins in Sewer Systems

Illegal Toxins Show Up in Columbia-Area Sewer and Water Systems Near Restaurant

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control is investigating the potential illegal dumping of hazardous materials in or near a restaurant, causing a spike in illegal toxins in the water in the Columbia area.

Cancer-causing toxins called Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, have been found in the sewers near a Columbia-area restaurant, McAlister’s. PCB use has been banned by the federal government since the 1970’s, and DHEC officials are scrambling to discover how the illegal toxins appeared in the system.

State regulators did say, on Wednesday, September 25th, that there is no evidence that rivers or drinking water have been contaminated by PCBs. They are investigating reports that someone, perhaps a sludge hauler, illegally dumped material that contained PCBs into a manhole or the restaurant’s grease traps.

“Whoever is doing this has got to be an idiot,” said Larry Brazell, director of the East Richland Public Service District. “This could be big. If they’ve dumped enough of it, it could be bad. And where are they getting it from? This stuff should have been out of here since” the 1970s. Once used as insulating fluid around transformers and in vacuum pumps and compressors, PCBs have not been manufactured since 1979, and currently, very few utility companies or treatment plants perform regular inspections for the toxins. Several treatment plants around the Columbia area are planning visual inspections of their water and sewage treatment areas – PCBs can show up as an oily sheen on top of water, which would indicate the need for more thorough chemical testing.

Local utilities will also warn their customers to look out for anyone who appears to be illegally dumping pollutants or toxins into streams, manholes, or storm drains.

Upstate investigators suggested that the PCBs might have come from an old textile mill that is undergoing a cleanup. The illegal toxin is also currently being cleansed from a site in Irmo.

“This chemical is bad news,” Columbia city wastewater engineer Bill Davis said. “PCBs tend to absorb into the sediment, into the foliage and other things around the banks, and in the mud – and they just stay.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency is also getting involved to help DHEC officials investigate potential sources of toxins.

“DHEC is seeking to prevent illegally dumped PCBs from being reintroduced into the environment,” the agency said in a news release Wednesday. “The regulation applies to the land application of sludge from wastewater treatment systems, including but not limited to municipal wastewater treatment facilities, industrial wastewater treatment facilities, septage from septic tank management and grease trap waste from interceptor tanks serving facilities such as restaurants.”

PCBs were not the only pollutant found in the sewer near McAlister’s Deli. According to the federal National Response Center, toxins contaminated a vacuum truck when it pumped out one of the grease traps at the Sparkleberry Lane McAlister’s Deli. Toxins included benzene and tetrachloroethylene, which is a dry cleaning material.

Officials noted that the concern over illegal toxins does not impact the food at McAlister’s.

PCBs have been a concern in the past, leading to DHEC issuing warnings about eating fish out of two lakes in South Carolina. Even after investigating, officials are unsure how toxins entered the two lakes – they only know that testing of some types of fish showed high levels of PCBs, which can cause cancer.

The Strom Law Firm Can Help with Personal Injury or Toxic Torts due to Illegal Toxins

If you or a loved one were exposed to toxins and suffered injury, contact the toxic tort attorneys at the Strom Law Firm, L.L.C. to discuss your situation in more detail and for further information about our practice. We welcome co-counsel opportunities and regularly accept referrals in toxic tort cases from lawyers practicing in other parts of the country. We also offer free, confidential consultations so you can discuss the facts of your case safely and with impunity. Contact us for help today. 803.252.4800



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