GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (WCBD) – Goose Creek council chambers were full Monday night as representatives from Century Aluminum and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) met with residents to discuss concerns over dust emissions from a nearby plant.
“First, we’re sorry. I understand your concerns and your frustrations. But we also appreciate your patience. We will fix this issue by October 17th,” said Century Aluminum plant manager, Dennis Harbath, during Monday night’s town hall.
Residents became increasingly concerned over the past few weeks after a sandy, gritty, dust-like material was found covering cars and outdoor objects in parts of the city. It was later discovered that the dust was coming from nearby Century Aluminum.
Goose Creek Mayor Greg Habib said he met with the plant and learned the emissions were alumina dust, which is produced during the smelting process. It’s not supposed to leave the plant and the dust is an important part of the plant’s ability to make more aluminum, according to Mayor Habib.
Century Aluminum believes that the issue was related to a failure in the plant’s baghouse, which may have occurred after the plant switched providers for filters used there.
Since the discovery on September 3rd, Harbath said during Monday night’s meeting that the plant went from just one employee working on the issue to 12 working around the clock.
He even brought out one of the bags in question. It works similarly to vacuum bags to keep alumina dust out of the air. But on Sept. 3, the dust escaped the bags. It happened again on Sept. 16 and Sept. 30.
One resident asked how often air-testing is done at the plant, even before September’s mishap.
“We do do annual and semiannual air testing throughout the plant,” Harbath responded.
Residents said they have had serious medical issues recently. Some said their dogs have died, and they believe these could potentially be connected to this alumina dust problem. One resident said he believes there have been issues, at least since 2018, when he noticed air issues around his home.
“Just letting people know that I’ve been paying attention for quite a few years, and I’ve lived here since ’92- retired from the military, 100% disabled, and I gotta worry about my lungs,” he said.
DHEC previously told News 2 that alumina dust is not considered a hazardous substance. “The particle size of the dust being seen in the community is large and therefore too big to enter human lungs; however, it can still irritate your skin, eyes, and nose, and can be a respiratory irritant after prolonged exposure,” the agency said.
A representative from DHEC said they have received 50 reports of alumina dust on property, cars, pools, and homes. They are investigating to learn more. The state health agency even placed two sensors out in the community on October 3rd to gather data.
Community members can access the real-time data by clicking the links below.
“Gathering information, asking questions, and getting additional information. We’ve been on site multiple times the investigation is still ongoing,” the agency said.
If DHEC finds that any state laws or violations took place, there will be citations issued against Century Aluminum. They told News 2 that back in 2021 the plant had a stack of test failures on some of their bakeovens. For that, they paid a $22,000 fine. That is the only violation the DHEC rep was aware of in the past five years.
Century also announced a website and a hotline are now available for people to report their problems and to stay informed of the situation. Click here to submit your situation to Century Aluminum, and learn the latest information about the alumina dust issue. You can also call them at 312-696-3131.
So far, DHEC says they are not showing levels deemed very dangerous to humans.