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Contaminant levels in question at Belton spill site

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Three environmental groups have said pipeline giant Kinder Morgan underreported the extent of gasoline pollution around an Anderson County gasoline spill site, but the state refuted that, saying the pipeline giant has been “responsive” to cleaning up the area.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper released details of an Aug. 19 test that found “benzene, toluene and other chemicals were detected in concentrations far higher than Kinder Morgan had previously reported, and many times higher than would be safe for the environment.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center said it conducted an independent test of the area’s creeks and wetlands in August. The spill, which was discovered in December 2014, occurred when a part of the Plantation Pipeline ruptured, spilling close to 370,000 gallons of petroleum products. The spill location is near Lewis Drive in Belton.

Three environmental groups filed a 60-day notice to sue pipeline giant Kinder Morgan under the Clean Water Act claiming the clean-up from a 2014 spill is still polluting the waterway. (File photo))The Southern Environmental Law Center tests were provided to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Controls and found 6,430 micrograms per liter of benzene, which the law group said was 2,922 times higher than the standard of 2.2 micrograms per liter. The tests also found 767 micrograms per liter of ethylbenzene, 15,400 micrograms per liter of toluene, 5,090 micrograms per liter of total xylenes and 128 micrograms per liter of naphthalene.

State officials said the surface water analysis data collected by the environmental groups at the Brown’s Creek spill site is accurate. The only discrepancy between those tests and those provided by Kinder Morgan found by the state was in the levels of ethylbenzene where DEHC spokesman Robert Yanity said 764 parts per billion were reported rather than 767 parts per billion. He said the values were reported by Kinder Morgan to the state on Sept. 22.

“The concentrations are higher than those historically reported at this site, however they are typical for release sites where free-phase gasoline is present,” Yanity said.

The environmental groups contest that Kinder Morgan only started testing areas directly impacted by the gas leak in August, rather than in March when they were directed by DHEC to do so. Prior to the September tests, the groups said Kinder Morgan underreported pollution levels.

The release of the Southern Environmental Law Center’s results comes on the heels of a 60-day notice filed by the groups to Kinder Morgan and its subsidiary Plantation Pipe Line, notifying the pipeline operator of their intent to file a Clean Water Act lawsuit if the companies did not expedite clean-up of the site.

“These results show what we warned in our Clean Water Act notice letter, that Kinder Morgan’s testing for the last year and a half has not reported the full extent of the gasoline pollution from its pipeline spill,” said Frank Holleman, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a news release.

Yanity said the state has overseen the assessment, monitoring and remediation of the site and “to date, Kinder Morgan has been responsive in their efforts to clean up this release.”

Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Melissa Ruiz called the release of the results “inappropriate and irresponsible” and said the groups failed “to supply or explain their sampling methodologies and analysis to the company that has already acknowledged full responsibility for the remediation.”

“Our activities have been under the oversight and direction of the state — which filed reports and findings on public record — which demonstrates our transparency and willingness to full remediate this site to the standards and protocols determined by the state,” Ruiz said.

She said the company would not comment on the results further “when we have not been permitted the opportunity to review the methodologies used to collect and analyze them.”

Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever, said the region’s water sources deserved more attention from Kinder Morgan.

 “These levels of pollutants call for urgent action by Kinder Morgan to stop the flows of gasoline contaminants into Anderson County’s water,” Cooper said, in the release.

Ruiz said the company has collected 266 surface water samples from various locations impacted by the spill. She said 97.5% of the samples taken showed either no contaminants present or levels lower than the state’s criteria. She said sampling results can vary, based on different factors.

“That is why we sample the area regularly,” Ruiz said. “However, we are confident in our findings, which have been collected and analyzed by well-known, highly qualified and certified environmental scientists under the direction and approval of the SCDHEC.”

In terms of the complete remediation of the site in Belton, Yanity said the state is reviewing a corrective action plan submitted by Kinder Morgan and it was in the public notice phase. He said site remediation “will continue until the release no longer poses risk to human health and the environment.”

He added that contaminants have been detected in the groundwater around the release site on Lewis Drive and in the surface water downstream of the spill, but, he said chemicals have not been detected in any samples collected from Brown’s Creek downstream of the spill area.

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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