Burning pile of debris seems under control

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Weston Newton

Since we returned from vacation some weeks ago, I have been receiving daily briefings from SCDHEC and EPA on the progress of mitigating the human health hazards from the fire at Able Contracting in Jasper County.

The site is off Highway 170 behind the Riverwalk Commercial Development in a mixed-use area. My primary contact is Rick Caldwell, director of legislative affairs for DHEC.

It is Aug. 20 as I write this.

Last week was somewhat of a blur, as I was at the Statehouse Tuesday for Legislative Oversight Committee meeting. Wednesday, I moved daughter Reedy into her dorm at USC. I was at the Able site Thursday evening, and then again early Friday morning, returning later in the day.

I met with Caldwell, and also Myra Reece, DHEC director of environmental affairs; Matt Huyser, EPA on-site coordinator; and Franklin Hills, EPA Region 4 Superfund and emergency management division.

I also managed to speak with the EPA's contractor, CWC Inc., from Nicholasville, Ky. Turns out, the owner-contractor and I have a good mutual friend in Nicholasville.

I've heard the contractor's name many times in my visits to Kentucky. His company is held in very high regard, especially for hazardous cleanup capability. I was heartened he was already here and his company was mobilizing to be here the following Saturday, which they were.

My discussions with DHEC also included the concerns about the bacteria levels in the Okatie. After testing, it was determined the bacteria was not related to the Able site, but indigenous wildlife, the usual suspects.

The firefighting runoff is also being impounded, recycled, and treated before it reaches the river.

As of today, DHEC and EPA are both on site. They established a Unified Command, along with Jasper County, with the mission to protect human life and the environment, extinguish the fire, and stabilize the stockpile to reduce the risk of reigniting.

Various air sampling conducted by DHEC and EPA have detected acrolein and hydrogen cyanide at and near the site, but they are now at tolerably low levels. While there is little threat to human health, they continue to monitor at and near the site and various other locations.

DHEC and EPA are conducting meetings tonight (Tue.) for local businesses and residents. I plan to live stream both meetings on Facebook. (Editor's note: The videos are still available on Rep. Newton's official Facebook page.)

Also, as of today, 1,019 tons of material have been moved from the site. To put it in perspective, that's 103 large dump truck loads.

While I have been at the site nearly every day for some time, it has been very impressive how DHEC, EPA, Jasper County firefighters and county officials have worked as a cooperative team to get this situation under control.

With all this good information and effort, there is still not, at this time, a projected completion date.

For those who might want more detailed information, please visit these sites:

• For more info on the contaminants, visit atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs.

• For perimeter air monitoring results, visit epa.gov/superfund/able-contracting-fire.

• For real-time particulate monitoring data, visit scdhec.gov/able-contracting-fire.

Weston Newton is the representative for District 120 in the State House of Representatives. WestonNewton@schouse.gov

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