COLUMBIA, S.C. — Sonoco, a global packaging corporation that emphasizes environmental stewardship, has been hit with a $230,000 fine for operating an unapproved coal ash dump near its headquarters in eastern South Carolina.
The state fine is one of the heaviest issued by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control during the past decade, records show. And it is being levied as concerns rise about the environmental impacts of coal ash disposal areas across the country.
Coal ash contains an array of toxins, including arsenic and metals that can make water unsafe to drink if the materials leak out of disposal areas. Utilities across South Carolina are scrambling to clean up the messes left by decades of burning coal.
In this case, Sonoco for years used coal to supply electricity at its business in Hartsville, about an hour’s drive east of Columbia in Darlington County.
But DHEC says Sonoco violated the state’s solid waste policy law by piling up waste coal ash on the ground near the plant. The ash pile is about 35 feet high and is on a 14-acre site. The company has since 2013 replaced coal with biomass, considered a less polluting source of energy.
Sonoco spokesman Roger Schrum, who said his company contacted DHEC about the ash pile issue, said Sonoco has not found evidence that the coal pile polluted groundwater or streams nearby.
Schrum said his company will pay the fine and clean up the ash pile across the street from its plant. The $3 million cleanup is expected to be complete in 2017, the company says.
“We do agree that this is a situation that needed to be remediated,” Schrum said. “We do not disagree with the fine. We want to get this closed and move forward. That’s why a remediation plan is in place. We want to get it secured as soon as possible.”
Sonoco’s troubles with the ash pile arose when the market for recycling ash dried up, the company and DHEC said. That left the company stuck with a mound of ash it had been selling as ingredients in bricks and cement, officials said.
“We sincerely regret this oversight on our part and are 100 percent committed to repairing the situation,” Sonoco said in a statement.
Sonoco, founded more than 100 years ago, contributes $1 billion a year to the state’s economy with thousands of well-paying jobs, a University of South Carolina study found two years ago. It has 330 manufacturing facilities in three dozen countries, with its headquarters in Hartsville.
Sonoco provides consumer packaging, industrial products, protective solutions and display and packaging services, according to its website. It also operates a recycling division that says on its website that “Going green is good for business.”
Sonoco plans to cap the coal ash pile with an impermeable cover and leave it in place. The ash pile does not have a bottom liner composed of synthetic material.
Sonoco’s plan is similar to efforts at the Savannah River Site nuclear weapons complex near Aiken. But power companies SCE&G, Duke Energy and Santee Cooper all have pledged to dig up coal ash disposal basins and either recycle the material or truck it to lined landfills. Schrum said the Sonoco ash was dry and never dumped into wet ponds, which are considered a greater threat to leak toxins through the bottom of unlined lagoons. DHEC agrees the ash can be left in place.
This article was written by SAMMY FRETWELL from The State and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.