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Four months later, odor issues still plaguing neighborhoods, little answers on solutions

Updated: Apr. 29, 2021 at 7:11 PM EDT
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YORK COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) -An anniversary no one is wanting to celebrate.

It has been four months since South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) got the first few reports of the rotten egg smell in Lancaster and York counties. WBTV was the first to start investigating this story and since then there have been a lot of new developments. That includes South Carolina’s governor getting involved with the smell.

This story takes you back to where this all started and what we know today.

First, a number. More than 13,000. It is the number or reports the Department of Health and Environmental Control received from the odor form. That is how many times people have reported the rotten egg smell in homes, cars and outside to the. Four months later, there are still few answers.

The first reports started rolling in January of this year. Those came into DHEC and Senator Michael Johnson, Wes Climer and Mike Fanning. The agency tracked them in Ballantyne, Lancaster, Marvin and beyond. Then, on March 10, we broke the story with you all complaining of the smell. Our story was the first time DHEC came out publicly about this matter. Days later, DHEC put together an official website and odor form for people.

“Sour, pungent, sharp distinct smell,” said one woman who lives in the area.

Then a week later, the Department of Health and Environmental Control held its first press conference announcing an investigation and urging people to help report the smell. It held another one on April 12.

“It is a priority. We’re leaving no stone unturned,” said Myra Reece, the environmental director.

On March 27th, a Facebook group was created. It is dedicated to getting answers for the smell and working together to come up with a solution from officials. The group has 1,500 people in it and counting.

Through the end of February and all of March, a DHEC team visited, tested and investigated several potential culprits including New Indy Containerboard. That is according to the April 9 report the agency released. It was not until that April 9 report that DHEC declared New Indy as the culprit. However, the agency claimed New Indy was a potential culprit at the press conference.

A short week later, New Indy tried to shed the blame releasing its own report saying it shows no wrongdoing.

WBTV has contacted New Indy’s flagship several times with no response from the company. Our reporter, Morgan Newell, was even kicked off of the property after reporting on the story.

”As the testing report indicates, New Indy did not detect those compounds in any meaningful concentration that would equate to intense odors,” says Toby Hobson, Vice President of Manufacturing.

Not even a week went by before the Environmental Protection Agency got involved. The agency is helping DHEC with another set of testing. It joins the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality and Mecklenburg Department of Environmental Quality. In a release sent to WBTV on Wednesday about its efforts:

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.

WBTV asked the EPA what data the GMPA has gathered so far, but did not get a response.

Just yesterday, Senator Michael Johnson announces he is making moves to stop New Indy from increasing its emissions by almost 50 percent.

”We’re gonna fix this,” said Johnson, at the press conference.

Senator Johnson’s efforts to limit New Indy’s emissions did get adopted by the Senate. Now, it goes to the House where another representative will fight to keep it in the bill.

So, that brings us back to today where many have been smelling this smell for four months. It brings up health concerns as more and more complain of nausea, migraines and breathing problems.

”It’s more like is it OK? Is it going to have any long-term effects?” asked another woman who lives in Indian Land.

WBTV asked the state, but they did not give much more information. DHEC says it is a part of the investigation with the EPA. So, many are still in a waiting pattern hoping from more answers from the DHEC and New Indy.

”It’s an issue that has to be fixed. Four months is long enough,” said a man living in Marvin.

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