South Carolina Agencies Serviced A Notice, “Clean Up Toxic Leak, Or We’ll Sue”
The Southern Environmental Law Center has sent the Santee Cooper plant a notice on Thursday, February 21st, that it will sue the company for violations of the federal Clean Water Act if the utility company does not agree to clean up their toxic leak mess within 60 days.
The legal notice demands that the coal-burning plant cleanse the site to stop arsenic from leaking into the Waccamaw River, west of Myrtle Beach. The letter alleges that more than a dozen pollutants have been found in the ground water around the Horry County plant, but arsenic is a particularly large concern. Arsenic is produced by burning coal, and exposure can cause a wide array of short- and long-term effects, including nausea, skin disorders, bladder and lung cancer, and death.
The letter also accuses the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control of ignoring the problem at the Santee Cooper plant, despite knowing about the toxic leaks into ground water for years.
According to the accusations, Santee Cooper and DHEC both knew about the arsenic leak for 18 years. However, against all federal regulations, DHEC never fined Santee Cooper, or forced the power plant to clean up its act.
“The DHEC staff did the right thing in finding a legal violation, but the leadership at DHEC … did not require a modern cleanup at the facility and has never taken enforcement action to clean up what the agency acknowledges is illegal pollution,” said Frank Holleman, a law center attorney handling the case.
DHEC has acknowledged that they have a backlog of over 500 expiring operating permits, and that Santee Cooper’s permit expired in 2006. DHEC has not issued a new one yet, with tougher pollution controls.
Arsenic levels are 70 to 90 times the current legal limit of 10 parts per billion underneath the plant.
Under the Clean Water Act, citizens can sue a company to enforce the law, when the government fails to do so. The SELC has sent letters to DHEC and the US Environmental Protection Agency. The federal agency is responsible for granting powers of enforcement and permits to the South Carolina agency. However, before a citizen can sue, they must first file a 60 day notice in order to resolve disputes and questions of enforcement.
The Santee River Plant Answers Accusations of Toxic Leaks
Mollie Gore, a spokeswoman from Santee Cooper, said that they had not polluted the Waccamaw River. However, she did admit that some arsenic had seeped into the ground water in the immediate vicinity of the plant. But, she said, the area around the plant receives public water so no one was drinking water polluted by the toxic leak. She maintained that the company was in compliance with federal environmental standards, but she added that Santee Cooper will, by mid-March, file a plan to close their two ash ponds.
Gore also noted that the company had tried to work with environmentalists, but legal action was getting in the way. “They chose to move the discussion to the courthouse,’’ she said. “This is disruptive to a process that was already under way through the appropriate regulatory avenues.”
The utility is closing down the aging Grainger-area power plant, which was built in the 1960’s and is failing. As part of that operation, it will drain one of the two coal waste ponds, then place a cap over the other. However, environmentalists and the law center insist that that action is not enough – without removing the coal ash waste, toxic leaks could continue.
Gore replied to that aspect of the letter saying that no specific plan had been filed for closing the plant down.
A massive spill in Tennessee several years ago increased scrutiny on the practice of dumping waste coal ash into ponds, which usually serve as disposal sites. Sometimes the sites are left capped for years, potentially leaking arsenic into ground water.
The Waccamaw River is of particular concern because it is popular with local residents for boating and fishing. A national wildlife refuge is along its banks further downstream, as well as a trail for kayakers. There are drinking water intakes downstream of the plant and, of course, the river eventually empties into the Atlantic.
The Strom Law Firm Can Help Plaintiffs Exposed to Toxic Leaks
A toxic tort involves the exposure of individuals, often in large numbers, to harmful chemical or biological substances. If you or a loved one have been exposed to a toxic leak and have since suffered health problems, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the toxic tort attorneys today for a free consultation. 803.252.4800.