Editorials

Fight against toxic trash mountain burning in Okatie has only just begun | Opinion

What’s more toxic — a burning mountain of trash near Sun City Hilton Head, or government that cannot be trusted?

The debacle at Able Contracting Inc. in the Okatie section of Jasper County has been enabled by the inept handling by Jasper County, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, the judicial system and the state legislature.

For years, it has been known that a pile of trash towering 50 feet or more above a street lined with homes and businesses, was unmanageable and potentially dangerous. It has now lived up to that toxic potential.

The mountain should not be allowed by state law, but we’ve discovered that a yawning loophole in the law led to trash piles like this around the state.

Legislators say that problem has been fixed. But that didn’t stop neighbors of the trash mountain ih Okatie from having to be evacuated.

Why was it not obvious that the pile of trash that was ostensibly being recycled was not being recycled?

The government’s reaction to the obvious has been a farce.

The owner of the trash mountain was charged last October with violating the Pollution Control Act and the Solid Waste Policy and Management Act under indictments handed down by a Jasper County grand jury. The alleged violations date to 2015. But Chandler Lloyd’s first appearance in court came nine months later, for a quick arraignment.

DHEC cited Lloyd with violating the S.C. Solid Waste Act on Sept. 17, 2018, saying the company failed to meet the 75 percent recycling rate required for construction and demolition facilities for fiscal year 2016. That was resolved a month later — with a warning letter. You can’t even call it a slap on the wrist. But that’s how a problem of 2016 was addressed in 2018.

And then the trash mountain caught on fire, which is toxic. It has been on fire since at least June 3, but it was late August before a plan to get to the root of the problem was put into action.

And that has led to the new fear that toxic runoff from the firefighting effort will flow into the Okatie or New rivers.

Here again, the government failed the people. After DHEC finally called the federal Environmental Protection Agency to the scene, the public was told that polluted water from the trash mountain would not leave the property. But the Savannah Riverkeeper advocacy group said it wasn’t so, and DHEC finally admitted it, but said it was mitigating the potential damage from toxic runoff.

At this point, who could believe that?

One thing we know: this fight is a marathon, not a sprint.

It is good to at last see a little bit of sprinting. The governments are finally tackling the fire in earnest.

But the public danger will not subside until the mountain is gone, and no new “recycling” materials are allowed to pile up here or anywhere in the state. DHEC and EPA need long-term, real-time monitoring of the air and water, with corrective measures as needed. They also need to test the earth beneath the mountain and the entire lot.

And then comes the harder part of the governments — local and state — regaining public trust. They can start by fixing the sluggishness that made a toxic mountain out of what should have been a mole hill.

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