Late Sunday night, January 26, one of my submissions entitled “The Real World Story of Human Lives Sacrificed at the Altar of Deregulation” was posted on PoliticusUSA. It told the story of how a dirt-poor Upstate South Carolina neighborhood had been victimized by carcinogenic and suspected carcinogenic mostly inorganic chemicals spewing from numerous manufacturing plants concentrated in one area, essentially next door to the affected residents.
I wrote of a meeting to discuss details of a class action lawsuit filed against these plants. I chronicled the pain, suffering, illness and death of the locals and the totally inadequate responses of the state agencies, politicians and, indeed, the plants responsible for this disgusting mass disruption of lives. This is part two.
I’ve read the entirety of the Federal District Court lawsuit. It’s a 92-page slog of legalese, complex chemical terminology and descriptions of frightening conditions and assorted deadly esoterica. Not easy reading so I’m going to summarize some of the more egregious passages and the incredible lack of responsibility on the part of the defendants and the culpability of the do-nothing paucity of enforcement, timely follow-up, oversight and/or disciplinary action on the part of agencies charged with making things whole. The depth, intensity and breadth of this pollution are going to stun you.
Let us first start off with a little confusion. It is stated that Hoechst-Celanese sold off assets at the site to Arteva Specialities dba KoSa. The new owner supposedly assumed all responsibilities under the applicable permit. And yet, Celanese continues to appear as the major domo of corporate targets for many, many years after the “sale.” The liability of both entities will have to be sorted out. That could take forever.
Responsibilities aside, here are some of the listed risks to the community as per the lawsuit. In the 2000’s Hoechst-Celanese put together a preliminary risk evaluation (“PRE”) of exposure risks to humans and the ecology. These risks would come through “contact with groundwater discharged to surface water and sediment of the Pacolet River and Cherokee Creek and also through direct contact with groundwater migrating OFF-SITE (emphasis mine) to the south. The following humans could be in the path of the pollution train according to the evaluation. They include industrial workers at the plant, residents living near the site, recreational users of the Pacolet River and Cherokee Creek, and downstream residents using the Pacolet River as a drinking water source.
In other words, anybody within shouting distance and many miles beyond that.
Subsequent reports by Celanese pre-dated and paralleled the purchase of part of the site by Auriga Polymers. The South Carolina State Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) as much as called Hoechst-Celanese a liar in rejecting the findings from a 2010 and a 2011 study that concluded that everything was hunky-dory. Chloroform was 12 times the acceptable limit in one off-site monitoring for instance, but that’s the smallest of potatoes compared to detected levels of 1,4-Dioxane beneath the site. These were measured at 7,253 times acceptable limits. You read that right.
DHEC also noted that 1,4-Dioxane concentrations near the confluence of Cherokee Creek and the Pacolet River were 3,328 times the acceptable limit. The agency reaction? Duh, I guess we need more studies to check the potential for migration of the groundwater contamination beneath the Pacolet river. What? You can’t draw any migratory conclusions from 3,348 times the acceptable limit? DHEC was alerted to possible problems in the 2011 study by an “extremely strong, unfamiliar odor” in the backwater area of the river at the confluence of the creek. And no residents reported this to anybody? Like, oh say, their local representative or maybe even DHEC.
After decades of being intimately familiar with the virtual chemical warfare being waged against an innocent population, DHEC finally called its first Cannon’s Campgrounds public meeting on August 4, 2011 to talk about the pollution outside the citizen’s doors, their waterways, in their wells and, for many, in their bodies, already raising havoc. Hoechst-Celanese had known of the groundwater pollution for 23 years and apparently uttered nary a word in a meeting setting. The pollution was described as a “threat to the community.” Even at that, DHEC still kept some nasty facts to itself. Just two days prior to the meeting, the agency became aware of disturbing sediment test findings from Pacolet River and Cherokee Creek samples that were not revealed at the meeting. Celanese still insisted, “That absolutely no threat existed.”
There were concentrations of pollutants that in some cases were “extraordinarily high.” In excess of twenty toxic compounds were detected. And brother, some of them were Toxic with a capital “T.” No sense sharing that information with people who could die without it. Joining them would surely be microinvertebrates such as snails, crayfish, mussels and aquatic worms and insects, not to mention other charter members of the local ecosystem.
Even being off-site doesn’t guarantee safety. Late 2011 results of off-site groundwater and surface water testing of temporarily drilled sampling wells surrounding a pallet manufacturing shop and sampling points from a nearby creek revealed chloroform existing in the bedrock of 7 of the 8 groundwater sampling wells exceeding maximum contaminant levels in 6 of the 7. One of the wells was overloaded with 1,4-Dioxane by a factor of ten. The chemical was also present in all seven surface water samples.
Private wells in the area were also tested about that time. Most housed some kind of chemical crap and probably had for a long time. The lawsuit maintains that the sad fact is that 28 pollutants have been discharged into the groundwater and/or surface water of the Cannon’s Campground community. Some of the chemicals are carcinogens; some are suspected carcinogens. There are enough health questions so that living in the vicinity of the chemical quantities we’re talking about here, is a bad, bad idea.
Trying to find a government agency to say out loud, “Yes, this will cause cancer” is a challenge. It’s pretty much as if EPA and NIH can hint that some organics like methylene chloride, trichloroethane, Tetrachloroethane and, say, acetaldehyde could, might, probably, possibly be carcinogens but damn if we’ll say it above a whisper. It’s also odd that much of the science is inadequate or dated, some going back to the early 1980’s. As I’ve said before, this is going to be one hell of a tough lawsuit to win. If rats were the victims, no problem. Seems like every test on rats with the organics and inorganics (lead, arsenic) that are present, tears the little critters asunder. But you run tests on humans, no harm, no foul.
Also of interest, the District 32 state rep, J. Denham Cole Jr. is a Republican lawyer, who according to South Carolina Ethics Commission records actually rendered legal services to a corporate occupant of the site in a contested contract case with the state. The company is a subsidiary of Koch Industries by the way.
Many residents cannot afford to move nor can they pay for access to city water. They’re trapped and don’t have enough money to save their own lives and one of the two major political parties couldn’t care less.