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A broken line connected to the Charleston Water System's Plum Island treatment plant spilled 38,300 gallons of raw sewage. File/Provided

More than 38,000 gallons of untreated sewage — about five times more than originally estimated — spewed into a James Island marsh near Charleston Harbor during a pipe spill that started Aug. 14, a state report says.

The spill has state Sen. Sandy Senn, R-Charleston, pressing regulators about under-reporting the breadth of the release and what she described as a failure to fully caution people about swimming or fishing in the nearby James Island Creek.

The leak is one of two recent pollution spills that have the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control under fire from local officials. In the other event, plastic pellets called "nurdles" are continuing to wash up on Sullivan's Island, where officials have told the state to force more cleanup. 

"The town has contacted DHEC to address the matter as an enforcement issue," said Andy Benke, Sullivan's Island administrator.

DHEC is investigating, spokesman Chris Delcamp said.

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Spilled plastic pellets washed up on at least a mile of Sullivan's Island's beach. File/David Creech/Provided

In the James Island spill that stalled traffic on Harborview Road, the Charleston Water System first estimated the sewage to be 7,200 gallons. The broken line connected to the Plum Island Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Most of the total 38,300 gallons reported on the final DHEC reporting form came after the pipe failure was discovered, said Charleston Water System spokesman Michael Saia.

A temporary repair broke and sewage flowed directly out of the 16-inch pipe until it could be tapped, he said.

The complete repair took four days and tests in the nearby creek and harbor aren't indicating remaining pollution. 

"At this point the incident is over," Saia said Friday.

Senn said she isn't confident that DHEC knows how much was actually spilled and has called for a meeting among state regulators, utility officials and concerned groups.

She also said the state should have done more to caution the public in general about conditions in the creek after the spill.

"I have three people saying sewage was spewing full bore at 6:45 a.m., and that was near sunrise," she told The Post and Courier. "Who knows how long it blew before daylight. "DHEC needs to be more proactive."  

DHEC said notifying the public in that incident wasn't the department's job; it was up to Charleston Water System.

"Utilities are to provide public notice of any significant spill within 24 hours of discovery," Delcamp said. "If the utility is unable or unwilling to accomplish this, the department can step in and complete the public notification. The law does not specify how the public should be notified."

The water system cautioned residents about swimming, kayaking or participating in other recreational activities in the water on social platforms and in mainstream media, as well as by hanging flyers on the doors of people in the area, Saia said.

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Crews on the beach on Sullivan's Island clean up nurdles on Monday, July 22, 2019. File/Grace Beahm Alford/Staff

In the Sullivan's Island incident, the tiny nurdles — bead-sized bits of plastic— began washing up in piles on the beach in mid-July. Nurdle are plastic pellets used to make virtually every plastic item on the retail shelf.

The State Ports Authority and Frontier Logistics, a shipping company operating from the Port of Charleston, contracted a cleanup crew that worked two weeks.

Frontier Logistics was later cited by DHEC for violating the state's pollution-control act. 

Jim Newsome, the SPA's CEO, said Friday the cleanup contract has been completed.

"DHEC is handling the investigation and is the appropriate agency to determine whether to direct future mitigation efforts to the appropriate party,” he said.

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Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

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