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Construction debris sits in a large pile at Able Contracting recycling facility in Ridgeland on Friday, July 19, 2019. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

With air pollution spiking around a massive mound of construction debris, the state Department of Health and Environmental Control late Wednesday issued an emergency order to shut down a recycling center near Bluffton.

The order identified an "imminent and substantial danger to human health and the environment" from Able Contracting's pile.

More than 60 feet tall in spots, the hills of plastic, concrete and wood tower over neighboring businesses and homes off S.C. Highway 170 and occasionally release noxious smoke from a lingering fire.

A DHEC air sensor at a nearby business has recorded air pollution levels 16 times higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe, DHEC's notice said. 

The order requires Able Contracting to cease all operations except those to put out the fire. The company also is required to monitor conditions 24 hours a day and hire an experienced contractor to put out the fire.

If the company fails to enact a plan within three days, DHEC could seek criminal and civil penalties, its notice said.

Myra Reece, DHEC’s director of environmental affairs, said the agency issued the order because of persistent air quality issues and the "company’s failure to provide an adequate fire suppression plan."

On Twitter, DHEC also warned people living and working near the site to stay indoors with windows closed and an air conditioner running as long as it doesn't draw in air from outside. 

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A DHEC air quality monitor is set up outside of a neighboring business to Able Contracting, a construction debris recycling facility, in Ridgeland on Friday, July 19, 2019. File/Lauren Petracca/Staff

"I'm thrilled that something is actually going on," said Teresa Forrest of Forrest Concrete, which is across the street from the pile. "Everyone around here has always known it was unhealthy."

Forrest and others in the area said the pile routinely smoldered in the mornings, and its smoke and stench were so bad they had to shut down their businesses or stay indoors. Some called it "Mount Trashmore."

"We've been breathing this for five years, maybe not the smoke but the stench," Forrest said. "I hope there's not going to be any lasting effects."

Able Contracting is one of 49 operations across South Carolina that accept construction debris.

Its owner, Chandler Lloyd, told The Post and Courier last week that it has taken numerous steps to keep the pile from becoming a nuisance. He registered his operation with DHEC in 2014, saying it would take in various kinds of construction debris, including plastics, wood and concrete. He said the operation recycled 75 percent of what it took in. He could not be reached Thursday.

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Reach Tony Bartelme at 843-937-5554. Follow him on Twitter @tbartelme.

Tony Bartelme is senior projects reporter for The Post and Courier. He has earned national honors from the Nieman, Scripps, Loeb and National Press foundations and is a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Reach him at 843-937-5554 and @tbartelme