Jellyfish-processing operations have ceased in Beaufort and Colleton counties pending toxicity tests and further permit reviews, state and processing company officials said Tuesday night.
S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control officials discussed the status of the operations and answered questions from a crowd of more than 150 residents at the meeting at Whale Branch Middle School in Seabrook. Among those attending was U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford.
The department is reviewing applications for stormwater runoff permits for facilities designed to unload and process cannonball jellyfish in the two counties, according to Jeff DeBessonet, permitting director for DHEC's Bureau of Water.
A company doing business under the names Millenarian Trading Co. and Carolina Jelly Balls wants to catch cannonball jellyfish, unload them at Golden Dock on St. Helena Island and process them at the former ArrMaz Custom Chemical site in Lobeco.
Permits and building for the Lobeco site also are under review, so Carolina Jelly Balls has set up a temporary processing site at Williams Farm in Colleton County.
Now the stormwater runoff created at Williams Farm is also under state review, DeBessonet said.
The company has already unloaded and processed some jellyfish at the locations, but DHEC has ordered those operations to cease, DeBessonet said.
"There were some things done ahead of the permits," he said. "It's premature (to say) whether DHEC is going to take some enforcement action based on the temporary actions they've already done."
In the meantime, state officials have ordered independent toxicity testing of runoff at the Golden Dock site, DeBessonet said.
Carolina Jelly Balls is required to submit an outline of how and when the tests will occur for DHEC approval before it starts testing, said Bob Gross, an environmental engineering consultant for the company and a former DHEC official. The company intends to submit and perform those tests as soon as possible, he added.
Still, residents near the Golden Dock and Lobeco sites are worried about damage the company might have already done. On Tuesday, residents repeatedly asked: Why the operation has to dump into public waterways, and what can be done to protect those waters?
"No one is opposed to having a new product in our area or to make money on it," Beaufort resident Robyn Crevinger said. "But we don't want them to dump waste in our water."
Several residents, including Ed Atkins Jr. of Lady's Island, pointed to the particular sensitivity of the water surrounding the Golden Dock area.
Sanford was joined at the meeting by S.C. Rep. Kenneth Hodges, D-Green Pond, and Beaufort County Council members Gerald Dawson and Laura Von Harten.
"This issue has generated more noise than any other at this end of the district," said Sanford, a Republican. "You could fill this room 10 times over with the number of phone calls and emails we've gotten on this issue."
In addition to protecting the water surrounding these sites, state and company officials need to consider the effect of jellyfish-processing operations â€" including the smell â€" would have on neighboring residents, he said.
"The overall sentiment we've heard about this issue has been overwhelmingly negative," Sanford said.
DHEC is also investigating industrial chemicals, called PCBs, found at the Lobeco site, according to Tim Hornosky, a DHEC geologist studying the site. A report on the levels and whereabouts of contaminants on that property is due by the end of June, he added.
No decisions are pending regarding permits and building at the Lobeco site until that investigation is finished and a cleanup plan is established, DeBessonet said.
DHEC will host future forums to discuss that site as well, he added.
"If we get to the end of the story and you don't like how we made the decision, there are ways of challenging that," DeBessonet said. "But we have an obligation to review it and give it a fair shake."
Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.