On January 6, 2020, DHEC completed the removal of material from the Able site to prevent reignition and recurrence of smoke. As lead agency, DHEC oversaw the removal of material from the site in collaboration with local, county and state partners.
DHEC’s number one priority, while the site was cleaned up, was the protection of public health and the environment.
The Able Contracting, Inc. (Able) facility in Jasper County had been operating as a Recovered Material Processing Facility (RMPF). Prior to changes to the SC Solid Waste Policy & Management Act in May of 2018, facilities such as Able did not require a permit to operate.
In June of 2019, DHEC was notified of a fire in the construction and demolition debris pile belonging to Able. Fires of this type often continue to burn deep within the material even when flames are not visible on the surface.
DHEC deployed air sensors to evaluate the levels of fine particulate matter in the smoke in the surrounding community. Based on increasing local concentrations at the end of July, DHEC issued an Emergency Order to the company requiring immediate action to extinguish the fire. Following is a statement from our Environmental Affairs Director issued at the time:
“DHEC has determined that the recent elevated levels of smoke from a fire at the Able Contracting facility located on Schinger Avenue in Ridgeland constitute an emergency requiring immediate action to protect public health,” said Myra Reece, DHEC’s Environmental Affairs Director. “DHEC issued an Emergency Order due to continued elevated air quality monitoring results along with the company’s failure to provide an adequate fire suppression plan to deal with the current fire at the facility. The Department is working closely with the residents and businesses closest to the facility to ensure they are aware of potential health impacts and find solutions to minimize exposure.”
DHEC asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assist with air and water sampling to help characterize emissions. While awaiting results from EPA monitoring, DHEC mobilized an emergency response contractor to begin efforts to extinguish the fire.
Summary of Initial Lab Data
DHEC requested assistance from the US EPA to collect air and water samples from around the fire at Able Contracting, LLC in Jasper County. Under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, if a hazardous substance, as defined in the Act, is present and there is risk of exposure of the public, federal resources can be brought in to mitigate the exposure.
EPA data was evaluated and one hazardous substance, acrolein, as defined by CERCLA, was identified. Its presence allwed EPA to assist the state and county in the fire extinguishing efforts.
DHEC maintained air sensors that detect fine particles found in smoke. Elevated concentrations of Particulate Matter in the area resulted in the issuance of an Emergency Order to the site owner to cease accepting material and to take immediate action to put the fire out. See the August 9 Update for additional information. Real-time data from the sensors was available on our interactive map.
EPA conducted sampling around the site for particulates as well as specific chemicals. The EPA web page on Able Contracting Fire can be visited to view the EPA data.
DHEC positioned particulate air sensors that are size-selective (2.5 micron diameter and smaller) for the size of particles found in smoke. EPA collected air samples which were analyzed ford for 76 volatile compounds, 90 semi-volatile compounds, 22 metals, formaldehyde, and asbestos in the smoke.
The air sample results showed levels for one of those chemicals, acrolein, to be at a concentration above the EPA’s Removal Management Level which serves as a guidance for EPA emergency response.
Acrolein is commonly found in cigarette smoke, in car exhaust as well as in smoke from wood fires (outdoors or indoors). It is not unexpected to find it when sampling any smoke from a fire and its presence does not change the precautions recommended in the DHEC Environmental Smoke Fact Sheet [Español].
Short-term exposure to acrolein may cause eyes to water and burning of the nose and throat, the same symptoms cause by smoke in general. These effects usually disappear after exposure is mitigated.
Acrolein is not known to cause cancer in humans.
EPA sample results can be found on EPA’s web page for Able Contracting Fire. Results from EPA’s water sampling conducted in the on-site well did not find elevated concentrations of the chemicals tested; however, ditch water samples as well as a sample from the nearby pond did find elevated concentrations of metals when compared with DHEC and EPA ecological guidance levels for surface water. There is no known human exposure pathway to the ditch or pond water. This is continuously being evaluated during the response.