The massive cleanup at the former Viva Recycling facility rolls on. Each truck that hauls a load of abandoned tires from the Berkeley County site means the property is one step closer to being rid of the mountains of potentially hazardous rubber. The effort also is a troubling reminder of what can happen without rigorous regulatory oversight to protect people and the environment.
Workers with Liberty Tire Recycling have taken away an incredible 6,435 tons of tires from the property on Cypress Gardens Road since August. The laborious task will continue for several more months at the now-closed facility.
Left to rot in piles on the site, the estimated 800,000 tires were correctly deemed a potential public health hazard. Nearby residents faced the threat of disease-carrying mosquitoes and the potential for a huge, noxious fire breaking out.
The cleanup was prompted by “Tire Failure,” a Post and Courier report that exposed how insufficient state oversight and corporate missteps led to the sprawling piles of tires at plants near Moncks Corner, Anderson and Jacksonville, Fla.
The newspaper documented how Viva Recycling executives had a string of bankruptcies in the Northeast before heading to South Carolina to start tire recycling projects here. Even with that kind of background, state and local officials aided their efforts by approving $16 million in tax-exempt bonds and a $400,000 loan.
The cleanup is funded with a $2 million grant from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. The agency gets money from a fee people pay when they buy new tires. DHEC also sued Viva to recover $1.7 million in fines and penalties and obtained a judgment against the company, but the debt has not been paid.
All of this adds up to a lot of wasted money. There is risk inherent in every business, but South Carolinians must demand that their governments be better stewards of public funds and provide stricter safeguards for citizens and the environment.
The promise of jobs should not outweigh proper oversight, an especially important point as businesses large and small open up shop in booming South Carolina. Officials also need to communicate when red flags emerge rather than pushing ahead in the pursuit of economic development.
While the disposal work near Moncks Corner is making good headway, the cleanup at Viva’s former site in Anderson will be more complicated. The Upstate property includes half tires and pieces of tires mixed into the dirt on land that contains underground gas and fiber optic lines, according to the Anderson Independent Mail. The effort there could take years.
The Berkeley County tires are taken to plants near Charlotte and Raleigh to be processed into products such as landscape mulch and paving material. One of the goals of recycling is to find new uses for discarded material, so this is the best outcome for a bad situation, albeit in a roundabout way. It’s also a reminder that governments at every level must do everything they can to protect the public from potential fiscal and environmental hazards.