State health officials announced new restrictions Wednesday after a hazardous materials known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found in a sixth wastewater treatment system.
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) officials suspect someone, possibly multiple people, is illegally dumping PCBs into sewer systems. The chemical was once used as an industrial coolant, but was banned by Congress more than 30 years ago because of its link to cancer.
The material was first found in three wastewater plants around Spartanburg County back in July. That number soon increased to four after the town of Inman discovered the material in its facilities. It grew to five this week after a treatment plant in Cowpens discovered the chemicals in its system. And on Wednesday, DHEC revealed that PCBs had been detected in a grease trap at a northeast Columbia restaurant.
While health officials say the treated water is safe to drink, they are worried about the material left behind in “sludge.” That sludge is often used as fertilizer by farmers. The new emergency regulations would not allow any sludge with quantifiable amounts of PCBs to be used for farmlands or stored in landfills.
“Because PCBs were banned in the United States over thirty years ago, they are not expected to be found in wastewater systems,” the DHEC emergency regulation states, “Therefore, there are currently no federal or state regulations to limit the land application of sludge below 50 (parts per million).”
The emergency regulation is effective for 90 days after its Septmenber 25 filing. It will expire at the end of the year, unless the South Carolina General Assembly allows it to become permanent next year.