RIDGELAND, S.C. (WSAV) – South Carolina Congressman Joe Cunningham is the latest lawmaker to visit the giant trash pile in Jasper County.
He visited the site Thursday, coming with promise of a clean up and clean air for those living and working near it.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now says its role in the cleanup of the giant trash pile is just about finished. But lawmakers like Cunningham and South Carolina Senator Tom Davis say that doesn’t mean the fight won’t continue.
The EPA says they are seeing very little to no active fire and very little smoke as they continue to dig out burned material from the trash pile on Schinger Road.
The federal agency says their part of the job is almost done. Then, it will be up to to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) to finish the job.
“We want that transition to be seamless,” said Davis. “We want the debris to continue to be removed, we want the stormwater to be continued to monitor. We want that to be done. this is an incredibly valuable resource for the people of Beaufort and Jasper counties.”
The task, according to Davis and Cunningham, is to get rid of the pile entirely and then test the air and water around the site to make sure it is clean.
The EPA has spent $500,000 so far, moving out 5,900 tons of debris to the Hickory Hill landfill in Ridgeland. But nearly 60,000 tons still remain. DHEC will soon be in charge of and pay for the rest.
With the promise, they will get paid back for their work by the state legislature and eventually the site’s owner, Chandler Lloyd and Able Contracting.
“This is a private landfill being operated by a private company for profit,” said Davis. “Once the EPA has spent its money and DHEC has spent its money, we need to turn our attention on how do we capture that money and get reimbursed by the parties responsible.”
“Bad actors need to be held accountable,” said Cunningham. “At the end of the day we need to get the situation under control and make sure people are comfortable breathing the air in this area.”
As DHEC officials explained, this situation led to a change in the laws to prevent this from happening again.
“Now these facilities have to have permits, they have to have financial assurance, very stringent requirements,” said Myra Reese, Director of Environmental Affairs for DHEC. “Much more than they were required in the past.”
Many people who live or work here aren’t worried about future rules, but past problems. They still wonder what their future holds.
“If the EPA walks away in the next few days and leaves a bunch of this pile behind do you feel comfortable being here?” News 3 asked.
“No. it is just going to reignite again,” said Teresa Forrest of Forrest Concrete, a business next door to the pile. “If nobody moves that material and it stays on site it will spontaneously combust again.”
Some of the runoff water from firefighting efforts at the pile has contained metals and other chemicals; it is now being contained on-site with dams and driven to Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority for disposal.
The lawmakers did admit more long term studies are needed to understand any health implications for the watershed.
When asked for information about the health of people who live here and what may be done, no information about treatments or tests were given by DHEC officials or the legislators.
There’s been no exact timetable set for the EPA to leave, or for DHEC to be finished with this pile or when neighbors may be able to come back to their homes.