INVESTIGATION: Enforcement and regulation of raw sewage spills

The Investigators

CHARLESTON, SC (WCBD) – Since 2016, tri-county utilities have reported spilling more than 20 million gallons of raw sewage. The total is the result of 181 sanitary sewer overflows.

Andrew Wunderly with Charleston Waterkeeper said the spills can impact the environment.

“It’s a huge concern. It is a public health issue. This is raw, untreated sewage that is entering into our waterways where people fish, paddle, and recreate,” said Wunderly.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control is charged with enforcing state legislation including the Pollution Control Act following SSO’s.

A Count on 2 Investigation revealed since 2016 DHEC has only issued one civil penalty for an SSO.

The state agency fined the Town of Hollywood following a February 2018 spill near Highway 17 and Old Charleston Highway.

A DHEC press release in March said it was determined that wastewater was discharged from a submerged pipe for 8 days prior to discovery, but the department’s consent order report raises questions about the spill’s size.

According to a DHEC report, the spill released about 2.4 million gallons of wastewater into the headwaters of the Stono River, but Charleston Water System, who receives the town’s waste for processing, said they received 10 million gallons less than they usually do in the same time period.

The report, obtained by News 2, states Charleston Water System notified the town it was receiving reduced flow on January 8th.

A CWS agent notified the town again on February 6th that a line break existed somewhere in the town’s collection system.

On February 19th, 11 days after the town was first notified about the issue, CWS told the town it was receiving zero flow. The normal average daily flow to the receiving pump station is 265,000 gallons.

DHEC determined the Town of Hollywood violated the Pollution Control Act and Water Pollution Control Permits.

Under the Pollution Control Act, violators can be charged up to $10,000 per day of the violation.

DHEC only fined the town $896.00.

“The assessed amounts are determined on a case-by-case basis depending on several factors, including the nature of non-compliance, the extent of deviation from regulation/statute, and potential for harm to public health, safety or environment.”

DHEC Media Releations

A DHEC representative says they track and investigate the spills based on established guidelines.

Permit holders must report a spill or overflow that:

  • is more than 500 gallons in size
  • poses an immediate danger to human health or the environment
  • any amount of discharge that impacts state waters

If a spill meets one of the conditions, it must be reported to DHEC within 24 hours of its discovery.

According to DHEC, the Town of Hollywood failed to properly report the SSO.

Wunderly said DHEC needs to better enforce state legislation.

“DHEC needs to send a message. They are the regulatory enforcement agency for environmental issues and they need to step up to the plate,” said Wunderly. “They need to make sure these sewer overflows don’t happen,” he added.

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