River protection advocates in South Carolina are demanding that SCE&G clean up a slick of contaminated coal tar from the Congaree River or face a lawsuit over the utility’s current plan to leave the toxic waste in the riverbed. The Congaree Riverkeeper organization has sent legal notices to SCE&G, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), giving them three months to begin removing coal tar from the river. These letters are required before the organization can file a “citizen’s suit” seeking to enforce federal clean water and hazardous waste laws.

The Congaree River coal tar is a byproduct of a manufactured gas plant that once operated in Columbia providing coal gas to homes in the early 20th century. However, the process of creating the gas created a sticky residue (coal tar) that was allowed to run into the ground and contaminate the Congaree. Coal tar is riddled with toxic pollutants, including the carcinogenic chemical benzene. This toxic sludge has been allowed to coat the river bottom for decades, with no effort ever having been made to clean the pollution.

SCE&G wants to cap the coal tar with stones and cloth, instead of going to the expense of dredging up the sludge and hauling it away. This plan, while opposed by the Riverkeeper organization, has been approved by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. SCE&G argues that this plan will hold the coal tar in place, protect the river from contamination, and avoid the needless expense of dredging up the river bottom. The Riverkeepers, however, argue that while it would be more expensive and difficult to remove the sludge, the costs and challenges of such an undertaking do not outweigh the benefits of removal and disposal.

If you would like more information on this subject, you can contact Grant Cofer, a lawyer in our firm’s Toxic Torts Section. Grant can be reached at 800-898-2034 or by email at Grant.Cofer@beasleyallen.com.

Source: The State

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