EPA leaves Okatie-area trash pile site; state DHEC to take over the cleanup

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has left the site of a months-long trash pile fire near Okatie, according to a news release Tuesday. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control will take over responsibility for extinguishing the fire and removing debris at the Able Contracting Material Recovery Facility.

The fire, deep within the mound of construction and demolition debris, ignited in early June, releasing noxious fumes and an acrid odor that forced nearby residents to flee, businesses to close early and brought attention from environmental groups and legislators.

Since mid-August, the EPA and DHEC have worked to extinguish the fire and remove debris from the site. Over 36,000 tons have been removed from the pile, once 45- to 56 feet tall, and trucked to Hickory Hill and Oakwood landfills, according to DHEC’s website.

“EPA partnered with the State of South Carolina and Jasper County as part of a successful unified response to the fire,” said EPA Region 4 Administrator Mary S. Walker in the release. “A smooth transition between EPA and DHEC will ensure protection of the residents of Jasper County as this cleanup moves forward.”

According to the release, DHEC will oversee the “complete extinguishment of the fire” and remove the “necessary material” to prevent it from reigniting.

The 31 neighbors who live near the mound were evacuated from their homes for 50 days while the government agencies assessed the fire and monitored the air quality. The EPA declared the trash pile at 472 Schinger Avenue a federal Superfund site and took over Aug. 16 as the lead agency for the cleanup. The agency also paid to house the residents for 35 nights, costing more than $49,455.

Last month, DHEC officials said they expected to have enough money to reduce the pile to 25,185 cubic yards, which, according to DHEC Director of Environmental Affairs Myra Reece, will cost $3.55 million. DHEC estimates it would cost an additional $964,000 to remove all of the material at the site. The agency could ask for the money to be appropriated in the FY 2020-2021 budget when legislators gather in January.

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A reporter for The Island Packet covering local government and development, Kacen Bayless is a native of St. Louis, Missouri. In the past, he’s worked for St. Louis Magazine, the Columbia Missourian, KBIA and the Columbia Business Times. He graduated with a Bachelor of Journalism degree with an emphasis in Investigative Reporting from the University of Missouri in 2019.
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