The discovery of PCBs in upstate South Carolina wastewater treatment plants has prompted the Department of Health and Environmental Control to take emergency actions to prevent the spread of the toxic chemical while they and the EPA investigate the source of the contamination. 

Since the original report of PCBs at three wastewater treatment plants this summer, the state has found contamination on a septage hauler’s equipment, restaurant grease traps, waste oil storage tanks, an oil recycling company truck, and in a stormwater pond. At least one septage hauler has been ordered to cease operations due to the contamination on its equipment. 

DHEC issued an emergency ban of the landfilling or landspreading of any biosolids containing any level of PCBs effective September 25 for an initial 90-day period. The order can be extended for another 90 days. Small amounts of PCBs, under 50 ppm, had been allowed in the past. The order also requires increased testing of biosolids regardless of the disposal method used. 

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In its notice, DHEC states, “Because PCBs were banned in the United States over 30 years ago, they are not expected to be found in wastewater systems. The Department’s investigation indicates the materials were illicitly discharged into the systems and originated from unknown sources.” 

The landfilling and landspreading ban includes biosolids from “municipal wastewater treatment facilities, industrial wastewater treatment facilities, and septage from septic tank management and grease trap waste from interceptor tanks serving facilities such as restaurants.” Wastewater treatment plants are also required to test wastewater returned from sludge management systems, such and thickening and dewatering, based on EPA Method 608 for PCBs. 

The agency says PCB contaminated biosolids are being segregated at effected wastewater plants, which are also testing effluent discharges “to ensure the illegal dumping does not present an environmental concern.” 

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The three wastewater plants where the contamination was found are the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District, Renewable Water Resources, and the Town of Lyman. Those sewer districts have tested grease traps in their service areas and each found one instance of PCB contamination. 

Officials have said they are investigating reports that someone illegally discharged PCB-contaminated material into manholes and grease traps. Law enforcement agencies have been put on alert and the agency has made appeals to the public to watch for suspicious activities.

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