ELGIN, SC (WIS) – After a chemical leak Thursday at its Kershaw County facility closed parts of the interstate for several hours and prompted some evacuations, WeylChem US Inc. identified the chemical as a mixture of nitric acid vapor and nitrogen oxides.
According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, it is unlikely that anyone will experience health effects from this incident.
“However, anyone who has any health concerns or questions is encouraged to speak with a health care provider,” DHEC said in a statement.
The Kershaw County Fire Department said it first responded to a call of smoke coming from the WeylChem plant in Elgin around 6 p.m. Thursday.
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Neither the Kershaw County Fire Department nor WeylChem have explained what caused the leak.
DHEC said the incident commander in that situation, Kershaw County Fire Chief Will Glover, “led a thorough response to quickly minimize the external impacts of the release.”
In an interview with WIS on Thursday, Glover said firefighters used water cannons to suppress the fumes that resulted from the leak.
The Kershaw County Fire Department ordered the evacuation of a small number of homes southeast of the plant.
“Based on wind direction and things like that,” Glover said.
In a statement, DHEC said, “WeylChem is required to provide a completed internal investigation report to DHEC, which will help guide DHEC’s next steps as it continues to investigate this incident and determine whether state regulations were violated.”
In 2013, the company paid a $500,000 fine for allegedly violating federal pollution laws, which included “improper management of hazardous waste under South Carolina’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and regulations, as well as hazardous pollutant emission standards of air under the Clean Air Act.”
In addition, WeylChem has received several consent orders from DHEC since 2013.
DHEC’s Bureau of Land and Waste Management issued two consent orders to the company for hazardous waste issues. The first consent order was executed in December 2013 and included an $8,000 fine. The second was executed in March 2017 and included a $12,500 fine.
The company also received three consent orders from DHEC’s Bureau of Air Quality in the same time period.
Two of those were for violations of South Carolina’s air pollution control regulations. The penalties in those cases were $8,330 and $12,960, respectively.
WIS has reached out to WeylChem for comment on the $500,000 fine and the community’s concern that its operations have affected the safety and well-being of Kershaw County residents.
In response to these inquiries, the company sent WIS a statement that read: “WeylChem stands by the statements already published and will update them if necessary.”
David Keisler, who lives up the road from the facility, said he wishes there had been more information about the incident with local residents.
He called the response “disorganized and unprofessional.”
“The initial reaction was that there was more concern about traffic control than safety,” Keisler said.
Keisler said there are sometimes different odors that emanate from the WeylChem facility, and it can be frustrating to live so close to it.
“No one ever warned us,” he said. “When we first moved here in ’99, the people who owned the plant used to send out these monthly phone calls. “In case of emergency, you will be told to do this, this, this.” But since the new owners came here, we have never received anything like that.
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