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PCB Worries Put SC Sludge Fertilizer On Hold

Betsy Hill/Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department

There's a lot of sludge in South Carolina that's destined for landfills. That's because the sludge produced from some wastewater treatment plants has tested positive for PCBs.

In July, high levels of PCBs were detected in at least four public wastewater treatment plants in South Carolina.

So last week, the South Carolina department of health issued emergency regulations 474 wastewater treatment facilities operating in South Carolina. There are 80 facilities, including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department with permits to send sludge to farms.

Sludge can't be applied as a fertilizer until tests show acceptable levels of PCBs. And that means wastewater facilities are spending more money to send sludge to landfills.

Mac McDonald, the public utilities director in Lancaster, South Carolina says it costs twice as much to send sludge to landfills at about 36 dollars per cubic yard.

For now, McDonald says sludge at his plant is being stacked. He hopes to get test results back before he has to send it to one of the state's 19 landfills. 

PCBs are toxic chemicals that were commonly used to cool and lubricate electrical equipment until Congress banned the chemical in 1979.

The EPA is investigating to find the source of illegal dumping they suspect is to blame for the PCBs. They've been found in wastewater sludge produced in the Spartanburg, Greenville and Colombia areas.  

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department also needs to test its sludge because it sends some of it to South Carolina farms. For now, it's keeping all the sludge in North Carolina, where it has 10,000 acres of land to apply sludge in North Carolina.