Press Release | November 7, 2023

SC agency violated Clean Water Act by proposing toxic discharge permit, groups say

Pollution could reach drinking water sources for nearly 300,000 South Carolinians

CHARLESTON, S.C. — In late October, the Southern Environmental Law Center petitioned the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control to reverse a proposed permit for the discharge of toxic-laden wastewater issued to the Fiber Industries, LLC plant in Darlington, South Carolina. The permit violates the Clean Water Act by allowing Fiber to dump large amounts of a toxic chemical called 1,4-dioxane into a stream without using proper treatment. These toxic discharges are upstream of the drinking water sources for South Carolinians from Myrtle Beach to Georgetown. SELC submitted the petition on behalf of the South Carolina Health Professionals for Climate Action, the South Carolina Indian Affairs Commission, Winyah Rivers Alliance, and American Rivers.

“The state has acknowledged that Fiber’s 1,4-dioxane pollution raises a ‘human health concern.’ But instead of looking at what technology is available to treat Fiber’s waste, DHEC gave the company a green light to dump its toxic 1,4-dioxane into rivers upstream of the drinking water supplies for nearly 300,000 South Carolinians,” said Carl Brzorad, SELC Senior Associate Attorney. “We hope the Board will do the right thing here: protect South Carolina families and reverse this illegal permit.”

In its petition, SELC explains that the pollution permit for the Fiber plant raises significant environmental and public health concerns, especially for downstream communities. The state’s proposed permit would allow Fiber to discharge 1,4-dioxane at nearly 70,000 times higher than health advisory levels for the chemical in drinking water. Because conventional drinking water treatments do not remove 1,4-dioxane, which can travel dozens of miles in rivers, the pollution could make its way downstream and into the taps of several South Carolina communities.

“1,4-Dioxane is a toxic chemical that has been linked to cancers, liver and kidney damage. As health professionals, we are concerned about the dumping of this known toxin upstream of the drinking water of almost 300,000 South Carolinians who could be exposed to this toxic chemical in their drinking water due to the failure of DHEC to comply with the Clean Water Act,” said Hayley Guilkey, MD, Chair of the South Carolina Health Professionals for Climate Action. “To keep South Carolinians safe, DHEC needs to comply with the Clean Water Act and keep 1,4-dioxane out of South Carolina rivers and drinking water supplies.”

The proposed pollution permit from the state allows Fiber to discharge 1,4-dioxane into Black Creek, a tributary of the Pee Dee River, upstream of three municipal drinking water intakes. In the past, Fiber has released 1,4-dioxane into Black Creek at levels many thousands of times higher than the drinking water advisory set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency based on cancer risk.

A 2017 study showed South Carolina had the highest percentage of drinking water systems with 1,4-dioxane of any state in the nation. 55% of drinking water systems sampled in South Carolina were found to contain the toxin, including two of the community water systems downstream of the Fiber plant. One of these downstream systems had 1,4-dioxane in its drinking water at levels above the health advisory at the time of sampling.

“Healthy rivers mean healthy communities. 1,4-Dioxane is a toxic chemical that can and should be kept out of South Carolina rivers and drinking water supplies,” said Cheryl Cail, Chair of SC Idle No More at South Carolina Indian Affairs Commission.

“SCDHEC must reverse Fiber’s illegal permit and require treatment of its toxic 1,4-dioxane waste. Protecting the health of our river and its downstream communities is critically important and non-negotiable,” said Debra Buffkin, Executive Director at Winyah Rivers Alliance. “The Board must act now and do the right thing to protect South Carolinians and reverse this illegal permit.”

The initial staff decision by DHEC to issue the permit will be considered by the Board in the coming weeks. The Board may affirm or reject the permit for the Fiber Industries facility.

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

Rachel Chu

Communications Manager (SC)

Phone: 843-720-5270
Email: [email protected]