153 Million Gallons of Sewage, Grease Dumped

From Charlotte Observer: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2011/02/20/2078499/153-million-gallons-of-sewage.html#disqus_thread



Sewage-filled tanker trucks have dumped 153 million gallons of human waste and restaurant grease at a Pelion disposal site that lies in one of the most vulnerable areas for groundwater pollution in South Carolina.

The discharge amount, revealed recently by state regulators, shows for the first time the extent of dumping that has occurred at the C.E. Taylor disposal ground since it received a state permit to open in 1989. At 287 acres, the site rivals the largest septic tank dumps in the Carolinas.

The company’s disposal practices have contaminated groundwater beneath the site, state regulators say, and have come under increasing scrutiny since a toxin was found in three nearby private wells last year. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control finds itself trying to explain why the sewage dump was permitted in the first place, given the site’s geology — and deciding whether the site should close.

Experts say groundwater pollution at the Taylor site should not be a surprise.

Pelion’s sandy, permeable soil — and the amount of sewage spread on the Taylor property — make the area a prime candidate for nitrates to contaminate the shallow water table, experts say. In some places near the sewage dump, groundwater is less than 50 feet below the surface.

Sewage trucked by septic tank haulers to Taylor’s dump dwarfs the amount of septic waste hauled to some of South Carolina’s largest wastewater treatment plants.

All told, the 153 million gallons disposed of in Pelion would be enough to fill about 230 Olympic-sized swimming pools with sewage and grease.

“That much wastewater on sandy soil with (shallow) groundwater is the kind of situation that can result in groundwater contamination for sure,’’ said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a former state regulator in New Mexico who follows groundwater and waste disposal issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “There’s not a lot of capacity in sandy soils for nitrogen (nitrates). It’s just going to pass right on through.”


The rural Pelion community, in southern Lexington County, is in the middle of a sand belt that extends from Aiken near the Georgia border to Cheraw and Dillon near the North Carolina line.

In contrast to South Carolina’s Piedmont, the sand belt contains fewer clay-based soils to slow down the flow of water – or polluted liquids – from the surface.

Frank Chapelle, a groundwater expert with the U.S. Geological Survey in Columbia, said sandy soils like those in Pelion also do not contain much organic carbon, which consumes nitrates. And that is a recipe for nitrates to reach groundwater, he said.

“Nitrate is going to be transported relatively rapidly,” Chapelle said.

People in rural areas such as Pelion often are more vulnerable to drinking water pollution because, unlike city and suburban residents, they depend on wells fed by groundwater.

For people like Judy Bennett, the amount of sewage discharged at the Taylor dump is another reason the site should close. Many folks in the area say the 22-year-old dump never should have been allowed to open in the first place.

“I think that place has run its course,” said Bennett, who lives with her family about a half-mile from the sewage dump.

The Bennetts’ well is polluted with unsafe nitrate levels; DHEC officials have not yet determined the source of the pollution. But state regulators have installed a filter on her kitchen sink to draw out the contaminants. At the same time, the air around her home is sometimes fouled with the stench of fecal matter, she said.

While she’s happy with DHEC’s efforts to install water filters at her home, she’s frustrated with the agency’s failure to make a decision on the site’s future. “I’m tired of them dragging their feet,” she said.

Nitrates found in groundwater beneath the Taylor site are associated with human and animal waste and can be dangerous, particularly to babies. Infants who drink nitrate-contaminated water can die if exposed to sufficient levels. Adults with stomach disorders also can suffer if exposed to nitrates at elevated levels.

The 153 million gallons of waste spread across the Taylor site since 1989 is an estimate, based on 10 years of dumping records.

DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said the agency does not have discharge records generated before 2000. Since 2000, Taylor has reported discharging 78 million gallons, Myrick said. The dumping was highest in 2001, at 13 million gallons, according to discharge monitoring records provided to The State newspaper under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.


Taylor’s disposal site north of the Pelion town limits is one of nine private dumps in South Carolina that spread septic tank waste, restaurant grease or portable toilet waste on the ground as a means of disposal, according to DHEC.

Like Taylor’s site, at least one of those nine, in Jasper County, sits atop nitrate-contaminated groundwater, DHEC records show.

The Taylor site only disposes of septic tank waste hauled by C.E. Taylor’s collection company. Until recently, it also took waste from other companies.

Midlands-area companies that clean out septic tanks, portable toilets and restaurant grease traps hauled the waste to Taylor’s dump for decades. Taylor charged them to discharge the waste. Company operator Frank Taylor says the site has been needed because wastewater treatment plants, which discharge treated sewage into waterways, often will not accept the material.

While major wastewater treatment plants typically dump billions of gallons of treated sewage into rivers each year, the amount of septic tank waste they process is small when compared to the amount spread on the ground at Pelion. Wastewater treatment plants in Columbia and Charleston typically accept and treat less than 1 million gallons of septic tank waste each year, officials in both cities said last week. Each year since 2000, the Pelion site has disposed of about 7 million gallons of sewage and, to a lesser degree, grease, DHEC records show.

Waste at South Carolina’s sewage dumps receives basic treatment before being spread on the ground. Taylor applies lime to help kill bacteria.

Compared to North Carolina, South Carolina has far fewer sewage dumps. But of the 135 sites in North Carolina, only a handful would be as large as Taylor’s 287-acre site.

And in North Carolina sites tend to be smaller. On average, the sites are about 18 acres in North Carolina, said Michael Scott, an environmental supervisor with the N.C. Division of Waste Management. A few sites are larger, and some have permits to discharge more than 50,000 gallons per acre, per year. For a decade, Taylor’s South Carolina permit allowed him to discharge that amount on his 287 acres, although that has been cut sharply in the past year because of rising concerns about contamination.

DHEC officials were not made available for an interview last week to discuss septic tank sewage dumps in South Carolina. But the Taylor disposal site is about five times larger than the widely used Jasper County site. The Jasper site is about 50 acres, operator Charles Degler said.

Nationally, septic tank disposal sites are found in most states, said Rotkin-Ellman, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. But regulations on how those sites are managed vary, she said.

The 153 million gallons discharged at the Taylor sewage dump is an estimate provided by DHEC. Frank Taylor did not dispute the amount when asked by The State newspaper, but insisted his site follows DHEC’s rules and has not polluted groundwater. Taylor has never been fined by DHEC.

“It’s all legal, that’s for sure,” he said.

Taylor maintains that farms in the area are the more likely source of the site’s groundwater contamination. Both animal waste and human sewage produce nitrates.

He also has blamed DHEC for providing poor advice on how to manage what he planted at his site, saying the agency at one point told him to plow under the plants. Vegetation planted at sewage dump sites is one of the best ways to offset the danger of nitrates, because plants absorb nitrates.

In addition to sewage dump sites, some businesses, farms and industries discharge waterwater onto fields rather than sending it into rivers. They, too, depend on vegetation to soak up pollutants.


Several internal DHEC memos, however, question whether the amount dumped at the Taylor site simply overwhelmed the vegetation planted there.

Tom Knight, who manages DHEC’s groundwater quality section, said in a Sept. 17, 2007, e-mail that land disposal practices at the dump “are out of hand.’’

“We need a thorough evaluation of their land application practices,” his e-mail to a handful of DHEC staff members said. “I suspect some combination of too much waste at too fast an application rate for the soil type, and lack of cover crop management” contributed to nitrate problems.

Another memo also raises questions.

The agency’s David Ebinger said in a 2009 memo that Taylor’s permit allowed the company to spread 50,000 gallons of waste per year, per acre. A safer amount might have been 10,000 gallons for some wastes, said Ebinger, who works with the groundwater management division of DHEC.

“Conditions at this site favor rapid infiltration and percolation of water,” Ebinger said in the Feb. 12, 2009, memo. “This does not afford substantial opportunity for nitrate uptake by the cover crop.”

Taylor’s permit expired in 2009. The next step for DHEC is to decide whether the site should get a new permit and how much waste should be allowed there if it does get one. A new permit could allow Taylor to operate up to 10 years.

To help DHEC officials decide on the new permit, the agency has brought in a Clemson University soil scientist to determine if the property is still suitable for continued sewage disposal. The department is also pushing to install additional monitoring wells to get a more complete picture of the contamination.

Great comment:
Good question veteran76. But the SC mess reported is almost minor. In NC, DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) has ignored the spreading of sewage sludge in protected watersheds, permitted the direct discharge of reclaimed water into groundwater, and is working to permit disposing of reclaimed water by injecting it into aquifers.

A number of years ago, DENR allowed a manufacturer to dispose of toxic waste, waste so toxic the manufacturer didn’t want to pay to clean it up for surface disposal, by injecting it into an aquifer (with suitable monitoring) and discovered that the waste didn’t stay to be monitored. The permit was eventually rescinded but the damage was done.

A law was passed saying it is illegal to dispose of waste by placing it in a well, but the sewer system permitted for Cannonsgate is designed to get rid of wastewater (somewhat treated, to be sure, but water that couldn’t be disposed of in protected federal waters) by discharging it directly into a well disguised as a pond with pumps to pull the water out of the pond and spray it where it can run into protected federal waters. Of course, since the water is being pumped out of the ground now, we’re supposed to pretend it is groundwater.

By the way, treating wastewater with UV does kill bacteria, but those that survive are more likely to be antibiotic resistant. If you’re wondering why the sudden increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria, it might have something to do with unsanitary sewage disposal practices.

One other thing, more sludge is spread in Union County than in any other county in the state. Farmers are told it is good free fertilizer. The people who designed that lie know that the “free fertilizer” can destroy the land and that has been sadly proven, but that’s a closely guarded secret, as is the fact the EPA permits the disposal of toxic waste in the domestic sewage system so you never really know what is in the sludge being spread.


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