Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Chemical giant taken to court by community

Living close to a chemical company
affected their health, residents say.
The neat, modest homes of Cannon's Campground and Bellview Acres conceal tales of sickness and death.

Carcinoma, leukemia, kidney tumors — dozens of homes have a story, and very few have happy endings.

After decades of suspecting the nearby Hoechst Celanese polyester manufacturing site and its various occupants of spewing toxic chemicals into the environment, the community filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court.

The lawsuit alleges known carcinogens used at the plant have leached into ground and surface water that flows through the communities, resulting in dozens of cancer cases.

The suit seeks an injunction of all pollution-causing activities on the site as well as an order to identify and treat existing contamination and to prevent any further migration beneath private property.

The plaintiffs also seek a health monitoring program for community members to be administered by the court and paid for by the defendants. They are seeking reimbursement for lost property values and civil penalties.

In an emailed statement, Celanese spokesman Travis Jacobsen said there is no connection between contaminated groundwater at the site and the groundwater in the communities because the areas are separated by streams acting as discharge boundaries.

"Simply put, the environmental conditions at the Spartanburg plant site have not caused adverse health effects or a loss of property values in the nearby residences," Jacobsen wrote.

S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studied cancer data after residents suggested a pollution link, but in a 2011 report said a cancer cluster did not exist.

The study examined the entire ZIP code the plant is located in and not the specific area near the plant where chemicals could have migrated, critics say.

The primary plaintiff is Jay Easler, but the suit was filed on behalf of all residents living in a two-mile radius of the site at the intersection of Interstate 85 and the Pacolet River.

Easler owns property abutting a stream known to locals as "polluted creek."

At a community meeting in 2011, a Celanese spokesman said Hoechst Celanese was never cited for pollution and always adhered to existing environmental controls.

DHEC's website states many current regulations were not in place when the plant began operations in 1966. Soil and groundwater contaminants were discovered in 1990 and mitigation efforts began in 1996.

A series of wells were installed along the border of the property to pump groundwater to the surface for treatment. Several years later, when evidence of contamination remained, solutions were pumped into the ground in an attempt to dissolve or disperse the chemicals.

Despite mitigation efforts, DHEC documents cited in the lawsuit reveal rising toxicity in the contaminated soil and groundwater beneath the site and an expanding plume of contaminants reaching off the site. In 2011, the first-ever DHEC testing of private wells confirmed contaminants found at the site were also in the drinking water supply.

The chemicals were found only in trace amounts in the wells, but many people could have been exposed over prolonged periods of time. Many residents no longer use well water and have switched to the city water.

This article has been edited for length.

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