Press Release | November 14, 2017

Congaree Riverkeeper to sue over utility’s refusal to excavate coal tar from waterway

Riverkeeper represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center

COLUMBIA, SC – Congaree Riverkeeper today filed a notice of intent to sue – the required precursor to a lawsuit – to halt SCE&G’s plans to cover acres of a toxic coal-tar plume with fabric, rather than to excavate the mess as first promised.

The utility’s plans to shroud about a third of the toxic tar with a permeable fabric, weighted with rocks, would not fully protect the health of the river or those who use the waterway.

Congaree Riverkeeper is represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The coal tar is spread across the river bottom for at least 10 acres near the Gervais Street Bridge. The tar drained into the river decades ago from an industrial plant, and now SCE&G is responsible for it. When the tar was discovered in 2010, SCE&G committed to excavation, saying it was “the right thing to do.” 

However, the utility has backed away from that pledge in favor of covering about a third of the tar with a fabric.  

“SCE&G promised a cleanup, but what they are now offering is a cover-up,” said Bill Stangler, the Congaree Riverkeeper.

Coal tar is a carcinogen. It is a skin and eye irritant that is also dangerous to aquatic life.

The Army Corps of Engineers has issued a permit to allow the fabric covering.

“This cover-up plan means the tar will remain in the river forever, with the very real risk that it will continue contaminating more of the river in perpetuity,” Stangler said.  “We deserve better from SCE&G and our regulators.”

A civil engineer who examined SCE&G documents said the utility’s analysis was done in a way that steered the conclusion to the cheaper option. The engineer wrote, “[T]he cost, technical, and regulatory challenges of the removal remedy do not outweigh the benefit of removal and disposal of the contamination from the river and the removal option should be the first option considered.”

Bill Stangler, the Congaree Riverkeeper, is available today for interviews. His contact information is above.

Documents available to download at the link below include the notices of intent to sue; a fact sheet on the Congaree coal tar; an executive summary of a report analyzing SCE&G’s proposed cap along with the full report; and a map of the coal tar in the Congaree River.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Catherine Wannamaker

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 404-521-9900