In June of 2019, the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) was notified of a fire at Able Contracting’s Construction and Demolition Debris Recycling facility in Jasper County. Between June and early July, DHEC conducted an investigation into the fire, and sent Able Contracting a letter, requiring the business to stop accepting new material and to submit a plan to the agency detailing how the fire would be extinguished. Able Contracting requested that the cease and desist letter be reviewed, but their request for was denied. Eventually, Able Contracting notified DHEC that they no longer had the resources to fight the fire; as a result, DHEC took over the site.
In late June, DHEC monitored the air quality in the area of the fire and found particulate levels well above EPA’s acceptable ranges. As a result of that air quality monitoring, DHEC issued an Emergency Order.
Subsequent EPA air testing found evidence of Acrolein and hydrogen cyanide. These readings triggered federal funding at the site, and EPA is now leading the effort to extinguish the fire.
These efforts include tearing the pile apart, hosing down these smaller piles and transporting waste to a nearby Construction and Demolition Debris site. EPA is reusing water on site in an attempt to keep water from entering the Okatie watershed. Meanwhile, DHEC and EPA continue to monitor emissions both at the Able Contracting facility and at nearby locations, including Okatie Elementary School.
This is, undoubtedly, a public health emergency. DHEC, EPA, and Jasper County are working together to get the fire under control, but the fire-fighting efforts could take months. On September 7, after Hurricane Dorian passed, smoke was still being emitted from the pile.
In a bit of good news, in 2018, legislators worked with DHEC to close a loophole that allowed these types of sham recyclers to go unregulated. But there are still concerns, both immediately, at the Able Contracting site, and as we look toward the future.
DHEC and EPA’s mission is simply to put the fire out. Once the fire is under control, debris could remain on site. We are working with state legislators, agencies, and local staff to ensure that the site is fully remediated and that Able Contracting is never permitted to accept waste at the site again.
We also want to make sure communities are protected from environmental disasters like this one in the future. Buffers between these sites and residential developments are a must and care must be taken to avoid further polluting a watershed that already suffers from high levels of fecal coliform. This is a developing project, and we are committed to keeping you up to date. Check back frequently for updates. In the meantime, please sign our petition calling on state regulators and lawmakers to explore options for preventing disasters like this in the future.