ELGIN, SC (WIS) – After a chemical leak Thursday at its facility in Kershaw County shut down parts of the interstate for several hours and led to some evacuations, WeylChem US Inc. identified the chemical as a vapor mixture of nitric acid and nitrogen oxides.
According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, it is unlikely that anyone would experience health impacts from this incident.
“However, anyone with any health concerns or questions is encouraged to talk with a healthcare provider,” DHEC said in a statement.
The Kershaw County Fire Service said it first responded to a call about smoke coming from the WeylChem plant in Elgin around 6 pm Thursday.
Neither the Kershaw County Fire Service nor WeylChem has explained what caused the leak.
DHEC said the incident commander in this situation, Kershaw County Fire Chief Will Glover, was “leading a thorough response to quickly minimize offsite impacts from the release.”
In an interview with WIS Thursday, Glover said firefighters used water cannons to suppress the vapors that resulted from the leak.
Kershaw County Fire Service ordered evacuations at a small number of homes southeast of the plant.
“Based upon wind direction and things of that nature,” Glover said.
In a statement, DHEC said: “WeylChem is required to provide a completed internal investigation report to DHEC, which will help DHEC direct 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 alleged violation of federal pollution laws, which included “mismanagement of hazardous waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and South Carolina regulations, and standards for hazardous air pollutant emissions under the Clean Air Act.”
Additionally, WeylChem has been issued 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-related issues. The first consent order was executed in December 2013 and included a fine of $8,000. The second was executed in March of 2017, and included a fine of $12,500.
The company has also been issued three consent orders from DHEC’s Bureau of Air Quality in that same time span.
Two of those were for violations of South Carolina Air Pollution Control Regulations. The penalties in those cases were $8,330 and $12,960, respectively.
WIS reached out to WeylChem for comment on the $500,000 fine and concerns from the community that its operations have affected the safety and well-being of Kershaw County residents.
In response to those inquiries, the company sent WIS a statement, which reads: “WeylChem stands by the statements already released, and will update as appropriate.”
David Keisler, who lives up the road from the facility, said he wished there had been more communication about the incident to local residents.
He called the response “disorganized and unprofessional.”
“The initial reaction was there was more concern about traffic control than safety,” Keisler said.
Keisler said that there are sometimes various odors that emanate from the WeylChem facility, and it can be frustrating to live so close to it.
“Nobody ever got us an alert,” he said. “When we first moved here in ’99, the people who owned the plant would send these monthly phone calls. ‘In case of emergency, you’d be told to do this, this, this.’ But since the new owners have gotten here, we’ve never gotten anything like that.”
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