EPA now involved in giant trash pile investigation

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DHEC calls smelly 65-foot debris pile with burning hot spots a "complex" issue

RIDEGLAND, S.C. (WSAV) – Health officials have called in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help understand and investigate a giant debris pile in Ridgeland.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) tells News 3 it’s working with Jasper County, S.C. Emergency Management Division and the EPA to determine the best path forward for the response to the fire.

Last week, the day after WSAV first reported on the pile, business owners in the area witnessed heavy smoke and an even stronger smell coming from the heap of debris.

DHEC says their priority is the protection of public health.

The agency has an air sensor for fine particulate matter, which is the size consistent with smoke particles, in the area. The sensor provides concentration data every 15 minutes. Click here for real-time data from the air sensor.

So far, that air sensor has not picked up unsafe levels of particulate in the air, according to DHEC.

Carina Curel lives next door to the Able Contracting business and 65-foot pile. She’s not buying that.

“There’s more to it. There has to be if we are feeling like we are feeling, there’s more in that air. I feel exposed to something dangerous, it’s not something good, its dangerous and we are breathing it,” said Curel. “We have headaches, we can’t breathe, my mom is on oxygen. It’s like a daily struggle to say are we going to have a good fresh air day.”

DHEC says in general, smoke from an uncontrolled fire (e.g. campfire, wildfire or other types of fire) can result in increased amounts of particulates and other chemicals in the air. This can be a nuisance even for healthy people, but it can also make some pre-existing health conditions, like asthma and some heart or lung conditions, worse.

DHEC is encouraging anyone who experiences symptoms to seek advice from their normal health care provider.

If smoke is visible, even if the source of the smoke is not, DHEC recommends following these precautions:

  • Avoid spending extended amounts of time in smoky conditions.
  • Don’t walk, run, do yard work or participate in outdoor activities on days when smoke is visible at ground level.
  • People who have trouble breathing, experience an increase in coughing episodes, or have tightness in their chest should seek medical attention from their doctor or health care provider.
  • People with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or emphysema are more likely than others to have these symptoms and should, when possible, not stay in smoky environments for long periods of time.

Jasper County Fire now has a truck stationed at the site and water lines down and ready for the next time firefighters have to come in. They have been on the scene a half dozen times or more in the past two weeks.

DHEC calls these types of fires “complex,” saying they will likely continue to burn even when flames are not visible on the surface.

Because the facility continues to burn, DHEC has asked the EPA to assist with air, soil and water sampling to characterize site conditions. The data generated will be used to determine the path forward.

Curel hopes that path is right out of her neighborhood for all that smelly debris.

“I hope he gets shut down and all that stuff gets hauled out fo there, every drop of it,” she said. “That means I could get my life back in order.”

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