The Pinewood toxic waste dump has been described as a “ticking time bomb” in view of the five million tons of hazardous waste stored there and because of its proximity to Lake Marion. The state’s job is to ensure that the time bomb never goes off.
That’s why state Sens. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, and Kevin Johnson, D-Clarendon, are trying to obtain a full assessment of the dump site to ensure the adequacy of its management for the long term. It is the responsible course of action.
Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie, connected by a canal, are a vital resource for South Carolina. They comprise one of the largest sources of fresh water in the eastern United States, and are still relatively untapped.
But the Pinewood landfill represents a specter of contamination. In one of this state’s worst examples of environmental management, the landfill was located a mere 1,200 feet from Lake Marion in an old kitty litter mine.
And as Sen. McElveen points out, the measures taken for protective storage in some of the oldest portions of the landfill wouldn’t meet today’s standards.
That could complicate the state’s responsibility to ensure that contamination from the now closed landfill never migrates off site.
Sens. McElveen and Johnson have asked for legislative hearings to determine the scope of the long-term threat, the necessity for site improvements and the likely expense.
Cost is of particular concern in view of limited trust funds for site management and improvements. That could be compounded by the Legislature’s past failure to provide full funding. Consequently, one trust fund has been largely depleted — from $36 million to $6 million in just 12 years.
At present, the Pinewood site requires about $4.8 million a year for the operation of monitoring wells and removal of rainwater that leaches into the site and becomes contaminated.
Sen. McElveen wants the Legislature to create a standing oversight committee for Pinewood to keep an eye on the landfill. Given the potential hazard, it’s a persuasive idea.
So far, however, the senators haven’t been able even to get a hearing scheduled. The funding issues alone should be sufficient to demand additional legislative review. There is no good reason to put off the request for another year.
Because of a series of irresponsible decisions dating back nearly 40 years, Pinewood will remain a troublesome ward of the state, probably in perpetuity.
It is reassuring that the site’s current trustee, Charleston lawyer Ben Hagood, says the site is being properly maintained and monitored. “There is no urgent environmental problem out there today,” the former S.C. House member said Tuesday.
But he added that funding issues need to be addressed to ensure adequate long-term maintenance.
To that end, the Legislature should accommodate Sens. McElveen and Johnson’s request for more oversight — beginning with hearings this session.
There should be no unanswered questions about the status of the landfill — environmental or financial — now and into the future.