*Updated May 7, 2021
DHEC is actively investigating the source(s) of strong odors in Lancaster and York counties. We recognize that odors like these can be a significant disruption to normal daily activities and we are working with several local partners to identify and resolve the cause(s). If you experience symptoms that do not dissipate once you are removed from the odor(s) or have concerns about your health, you should see your primary health care provider.
DHEC continues to incorporate citizen reports in its odor investigation. We appreciate community members who are actively assisting us in the ongoing investigation by providing specific details of their odor observation. Your input is informing our investigation into the source or sources of the odor and the conditions that increase the impacts. Citizen inputs inform the path toward a resolution.
DHEC has created a form to gain specific information that will aid in our ongoing odor investigation. Community members and their observations are valuable assets in our investigation. Below is an example map of odor reports that provided complete location and time details.
We have used citizen reports that include time and place along with local wind speed and direction data to follow air parcels back in time to recreate the path that air has taken. Called back trajectories, and modeled by our meteorologists during a range of conditions, they help identify where parcels of air have been and the potential sources along those paths. Many of the back trajectories that have been modeled indicated that air associated with odor reports previously passed over or near the New Indy plant.
Some of the recent odor reports indicated smoke was in the air. Spring is a time when there are many prescribed burns conducted in the southeast Fire management strives to minimize smoke impacts in the surrounding communities by following smoke guidelines and best practices. The number of prescribed burns and the weather conditions have contributed to hazy conditions and the detectable smell of smoke across the area. If you are interested in learning more and would like to see fire detections and visible smoke plumes, here is a link to the NOAA Hazard Mapping System (HMS) mapping site. Keep in mind that depending on regional and local weather conditions, smoke can come from a fire a long distance away.
DHEC takes odor concerns very seriously and remains committed to providing information to those affected by these odors.
DHEC's Ongoing Investigation
As part of DHEC’s ongoing investigation, we have evaluated permitted facilities in the area, including the New Indy Containerboard facility and nearby wastewater treatment plants, which also have a distinctive odor. The reports that describe the results of these inspections are provided here. The Order to correct undesirable level of air contaminants.pdf was added below.
The Bureau of Air Quality has given New Indy permission to restart its steam stripper. This device is called a stripper because it removes (or strips) certain pollutants, including total reduced sulfur (TRS) compounds, from the foul condensates before they are released to the wastewater treatment system. These compounds are collected and treated in a combustion device and can help reduce odors. TRS compounds include hydrogen sulfide and methyl mercaptan, which all have a very low threshold of odor detectability.
DHEC is working with state, local, tribal, and federal partners to investigate the odors. North Carolina DEQ has indicated to South Carolina DHEC that they have investigated their wastewater treatment plants in North Carolina and have not found issues believed to contribute to the odors.
Since early March, when citizen complaints increased dramatically, DHEC has:
- Created a webpage to keep the community informed of DHEC’s investigation
- Conducted inspections of regulated facilities that could be potential sources of the odor
- Increased surveillance in the area
- Created a form and email address for community members to submit odor reports
- Used data from citizen odor reports to inform investigation
To assist in the ongoing investigation, DHEC requested resource assistance from the US EPA:
- to bring in pulp and paper mill process experts to assist in joint DHEC and EPA inspections; and
- to bring in advanced technology to measure air quality in surrounding communities where odors have been reported.
Here is a link to more information about the EPA's mobile air monitoring equipment: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2018-05/documents/factsheet-neic-fb-advmonitoring.pdf.
Statement from the US EPA on April 28, 2021:
"At the request of the SC DHEC, EPA immediately engaged in a multistate team with SC DHEC, NC DEQ, and MCAQ to investigate the cause of the odors. To assist with informing the multistate team, EPA assembled a technical team with expertise in air, water and waste from across the Agency to analyze modeling data and screen potential sources of sulfur compounds in the area. Data and information gathered, to date, indicate a potential cause of the odor is hydrogen sulfide. On April 24, the multistate team deployed a mobile air monitoring vehicle, called a Geospatial Measurement of Air Pollution (GMAP) mobile laboratory, to Catawba, South Carolina, to assess hydrogen sulfide levels around industrial facilities and the surrounding communities. This tool allows the agency to determine the source of the H2S (one of the potential odor causing compounds) quantifying its concentration in ambient air."
Report from New Indy
Odors from Sulfur Containing Compounds at Regulated Sources
Sulfur odors come largely from decaying organic matter - especially when decaying organic materials are concentrated in one area like a wastewater treatment plant, land application of organic fertilizer and certain industries like pulp and paper mills. The pulp and paper industry is known for its distinctive smell. This smell comes from the decay of wood, which releases naturally occurring sulfur compounds, as well as a sulfur-containing chemical used in the pulping process.
Sulfur-containing chemicals are often detected by the human sense of smell in very low concentrations and have an unpleasant odor, sometimes similar to rotten eggs. These chemicals can be smelled at concentrations much lower than those associated with being harmful to health. Odors of any type can trigger symptoms such as headaches and nausea, and the sense of smell is subjective to each individual. There are no state or federal odor regulations applicable to South Carolina.
Weather patterns may also influence the detection of odors. DHEC typically receives odor complaints during changes of seasons, during temperature inversions, and when wind comes from atypical directions. Meteorologists of both South Carolina and North Carolina have confirmed temperature inversions have recently occurred in the area.
Methyl mercaptan, a sulfur containing compound, is added to natural gas as an odorant so that leaks can be detected. If your home has gas appliances or gas heating or gas fireplaces and you smell gas inside your home that is not also outside of your home, you should leave the home and call the gas company or 9-1-1.
DHEC takes odor concerns very seriously and remains committed to providing information to those affected by these odors. Community members and their observations are valuable assets in our investigation. Data from citizen odor reports has been and will continue to be used to inform the investigation.
On March 12, 2021, DHEC provided a form for community members to contribute details of their odor observations to assist in our investigation.
If you have questions related to the Lancaster-York odor investigation, please submit an email to LancasterYorkOdorReports@dhec.sc.gov.
- Media Statement (March 12, 2021)
- Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry: Are Environmental Odors Toxic?
- Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry: ToxFAQTM for Hydrogen Sulfide
DHEC and local partners continue to work to resolve this concern. Please check this webpage frequently as it will be updated as additional information about the odor investigation becomes available.