- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 13, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A Senate subcommittee is trying to figure out how much South Carolina needs to pay to make sure a Sumter County toxic waste landfill closed 15 years ago doesn’t pollute nearby Lake Marion or other areas.

Safety-Kleen, the company that ran the landfill until going bankrupt in the early 2000s, set aside $1 million a year to make sure the waste stays inside the landfill in Pinewood.

But the dump has cost an average of nearly $5 million a year over the past decade, and a $35 million trust fund set aside to protect the state from environmental messes has dwindled down to less than $6 million, said Elizabeth Dieck, Director of Environmental Affairs for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The agency is asking for about $4 million in next year’s budget, Dieck told the Senate subcommittee holding its first meeting Wednesday about what to do with the shuddered landfill.

And there are questions about whether even more money needs to be spent on aging liners that keep water tainted by the toxic waste from leaking out, Sen. Thomas McElveen said.

“It’s not going away,” said McElveen, D-Sumter.

The landfill started as a clay mine for cat litter, but quickly turned into a dump for toxic waste. The 279-acre site contains heavy metals, solvents and cancer-causing PCBs and parts are within 1,000 feet of Lake Marion. Current regulations would never allow a landfill like this to be built so close to a body of water.

Parts of the landfill were built to 1980s standards with weaker liners protecting the soil from the surrounding waste, said Sen. Kevin Johnson. He thinks the subcommittee needs to study long term solutions using the most current technology.

“If something happens, it would be even more expensive in the long run,” said Johnson, D-Manning.

The landfill’s biggest pollution problem is water contaminated by the waste. Currently the water is collected and treated. Around 200 wells on the landfill are used to draw samples and test them to make sure scientists know where the water is collecting and going, said David Hagen, a senior vice president with Haley & Aldrich Inc., a firm hired by the state to review the landfill’s safety.

“We did not find any current risk to human health or the environment. This is a really well monitored site,” Hagen said.

McElveen isn’t sure. He questions the current management setup. After the bankruptcy, an independent trustee was supposed to monitor the site, but there was conflicting testimony Wednesday about how much control DHEC has over that group.

The senator also wants the subcommittee to hear from Bill Stephens, the former manager of the landfill, who told The State newspaper last year that the dump needs $20 million of improvements as soon as possible to prevent a disaster.

“I’m skeptical,” McElveen said of the report presented Wednesday. “I can’t even say with regards to the landfill, my position is ‘trust but verify.’ It is something less than that.”

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Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/

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