The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported in early August that various “incompatible, highly reactive” wastes that could be hazardous to human health and the environment were stored in South Carolina State University’s Hodge Hall.
But Craig Burgess, general counsel and vice president of operations, said last week that all the wastes have been removed and the institution is in the process of hiring a company and developing a plan to remove wastes on a regular basis.
“We have fully cooperated with DHEC and kept them informed,” he said.
Burgess noted that the wastes were from the projects within the institution’s science departments and that the problem was not created recently.
“From my understanding, the university was not doing what it was supposed to be doing regarding wastes from those academic programs,” Burgess said. “It has not just happened. It has been happening over a number of years.”
S.C. State reported to DHEC in June that the wastes had been stored in Hodge Hall since 2009.
DHEC carried out three inspections of Hodge Hall in late March and early April following a complaint by the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
The agency reported that the wastes, which were incompatible with each other, were stored near each other with no separating dike, wall or other device to prevent accidental ignition. Additionally, it found that the institution had not filed proper reports concerning the wastes and had failed to maintain the facility in a manner to prevent harm to human life and the environment.
According to DHEC, the chemicals could generate extreme heat or pressure, fire, explosion or violent reaction. Some could also produce uncontrolled toxic mists, fumes, dusts or gases in sufficient quantities to threaten human health or the environment.
Burgess said he could not quantify the risk because he’s not an expert.
“What I can say is that once DHEC identified them (hazardous wastes), we moved quickly to remove them so as to minimize any safety-related issues,” he said. “We will continue doing that in the future.”
DHEC issued a consent order to the university in early August calling for the removal of the chemicals in three phases, with certain chemicals to be removed at the end of 15, 30 and 60 days.
The university was also required to provide manifests to DHEC on the removal of the chemicals and to carry out an inventory of all hazardous wastes stored in all university buildings. The location of hazardous wastes was to be provided to DHEC by building and room number.
Additionally, S.C. State was fined $51,500. It was required to pay $5,150 within 30 days. The remaining $46,390 will be suspended when the university successfully carries out all the requirements of the Consent order.
Burgess reported that Phases I and II were completed on time, but the university had to request an extension to complete Phase III.
Clean Harbors was hired to remove and dispose of the wastes for a cost somewhere from $10,000 to $20,000, he said.
There was no contract in place, so work on Phase III slowed down when Mike Tyler, the university’s fire marshal resigned, he said.
“He was interacting with DHEC,” Burgess said. “He left in the middle of our efforts.”
When that happened, Burgess wrote DHEC requesting a deferment, which was granted.
The institution was given until October 28 to have all the hazardous waste removed from Hodge Hall. Burgess reported said all hazardous waste was removed from the institution by that date.
However, Phase III includes creating a plan to safely handle wastes and hiring a company to remove it on a quarterly basis, and the institution is still in the process of doing that, Burgess said.
He has already met with several vendors and is moving forward to identify one who will be hired to handle the university’s chemical wastes, he said. But S.C. State is a public institution and has to follow the proper procurement process and bid out the contract, and that will take some time.
“We told DHEC we probably need another 30 days to get the contract in place,” Burgess said.
Additionally, “we are moving forward in hiring a qualified fire marshal who can help us adhere to DHEC’s orders and create a program to remove hazardous materials moving forward,” Burgess said.
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