Be vigilant on toxic waste dump

Aerial shot of Lake Marion. (Jim Huff/File)

If the Pinewood toxic waste dump isn’t the imminent environmental problem it was during the years of its operation, it still has that potential. Any leakage from the site could threaten a vital natural resource for South Carolina, since the landfill was imprudently located about 1,000 feet from the pristine waters of Lake Marion.

So there should be no hesitancy by legislators holding hearings about its status, particularly considering the red flags raised by former site manager Bill Stephens.

If further safeguards are required, as Mr. Stephens has asserted, the state should be willing to implement them. In view of the incalculable cost of contamination anything less would be irresponsible.

Mr. Stephens, who monitored the landfill for a private company under contract to the state, recommended $20 million in improvements to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, The State newspaper reported.

Mr. Stephens recommended improved barriers to contamination, plus systems to vent gas buildup and remove contaminated water, according to the newspaper. Consultants have supported similar improvements.

DHEC was unconvinced, citing the need for more data, and last year the agency terminated its contract with the private company that had been overseeing the landfill, effectively ending Mr. Stephens’ job on site.

Sens. Thomas McElveen and Kevin Johnson, both D-Sumter, want a Senate committee to hear testimony from Mr. Stephens and DHEC officials on the matter.

Clearly, the situation at Lake Marion is something that must be kept under the keenest scrutiny, since there are millions of tons of toxic waste buried on the site.

The issue is even more compelling when you consider that Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, which are connected, comprise one of the largest reservoirs of fresh water in the eastern United States.

The stakes are huge both for the natural resources of the state and for economic development.

Opening up South Carolina to toxic waste disposal was a terrible idea, and allowing it to be located in the former kitty litter mine near the banks of Lake Marion was even worse. Moreover, state efforts to ensure that the former owner would assume the necessary liability after its closure also have come up short.

The state can’t afford any more mistakes on this toxic waste site. An open review of the situation, by which testimony can be compelled if necessary, is the best way to stay on top of the situation.

Meanwhile, Eleanor Kitzman withdrew consideration as the next DHEC director last week after criticism that she lacked the experience needed for that job. So state senators should now be ready to seek and scrutinize the next nominee’s views on monitoring and further improvements for the toxic waste site.

Maintaining the integrity of the landfill’s barriers to creeping contamination is the state’s responsibility.

Continued vigilance, and if necessary improvements, are essential to that job.