South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

New DHEC director could help improve Sumter's Pinewood landfill, says Sen. McElveen
March 3rd, 2019

By Rachel Pittman, The Sumter Item

Tuesday's state Senate appointment of Rick Toomey as director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control brings with it a promise for a Sumter legislator.

According to state Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, the Greenville native and former Beaufort Memorial Hospital president and CEO has agreed to accompany the senator on a visit to the Pinewood Site, the infamous closed hazardous waste landfill in Sumter County, this spring.

"Toomey has not visited Pinewood, so I asked him if he would make a commitment to go down there with me this spring," McElveen said. "He said he would take a tour of the landfill in the near future so that he can familiarize himself with it."

The 279-acre Pinewood site received hazardous and nonhazardous waste from 1978 until 2000. Now, the site is closed and is managed by the state through Pinewood Trustee Inc.

Pinewood Trustee Inc. releases regular reports on the site's status and maintains these reports at www.thepinewoodsite.com. McElveen said that while he feels the trustee has been transparent in its operations, he thinks awareness within DHEC through Toomey could bring even more progress to Pinewood.

"It's really a statewide issue. In some places, the site is less than 1,000 feet from Lake Marion, and it's [upstream] from Charleston and Georgetown," McElveen said. "I want to make sure this is on Toomey's and DHEC's radar so we can be more forward-thinking about it."

The site is in post-closure care until 2103, meaning a groundwater monitoring program including more than 200 groundwater monitoring wells is regularly maintained along with a leachate collection system. So far, there has been no evidence of contamination in the lake.

Leachate is liquid that has collected waste components by draining through solid waste. It must be continuously pumped out of the large, capped cells of waste at Pinewood.

Cleaning out Pinewood would be what McElveen refers to as a "monumentally expensive" undertaking. While gutting the site is out of the question, simply ensuring it does not become even more dangerous requires approximately $4.8 million a year in state funds and constant vigilance.

"It's a ticking time bomb," said Filippo Ravalico, program manager of the nonprofit environmental law firm the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP). "It may never go off, but it could be ticking forever."

In 2000, after more than 15 years of legal proceedings, the SCELP won the longest lawsuit in its history on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Energy Research Foundation, pushing Pinewood to be closed permanently and placed by the state under the care of a trustee.

The site was maintained by Kestrel Horizons LLC from 2003 until 2016, when DHEC appointed Pinewood Trustee Inc. after it had already served two years as an interim.

Since the site was placed under Pinewood Trustee Inc., Ravalico said the information released has been timely and extensive but that, in the future, more attention needs to be given to summarizing the reports and making them accessible to concerned citizens.

The trustee's 2018 annual leachate report for the site clocked in at just more than 860 pages.

Ravalico also recommends a complete Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment be performed at the site, a measure he said was recommended for Pinewood before Pinewood Trustee Inc.'s time but was never completed.

Ravalico said he hopes Toomey's background in health care will help usher in these improvements. According to DHEC's bio on Toomey, that background is 32 years strong in public health administration and executive management.

"Toomey comes from a health background, so hopefully he'll be particularly sensitive to this issue and its risks," he said.

Pinewood Trustee Inc. could not be reached for comment.

Toomey, the first director DHEC has had in more than a year, said in a statement on Tuesday that the agency takes "immense pride in serving the citizens of this state."

"DHEC has the enormous responsibility of promoting and protecting the health of the public and environment in South Carolina," Toomey said in the statement. "I'm eternally humbled and honored to have the opportunity."

He told The Sumter Item he is looking forward to surveying the site this spring

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