State agency fines polluters but economy takes toll

Tony Bartelme of the Charleston Post and Courier obtained and analyzed records of 17 years of fines handed out to polluters by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. The DEHC dished out 6,100 fines in that time period, ranging from a few hundred to a few million dollars in size.

Bartelme obtained the information through a South Carolina Freedom of Information Act request and the information is available through a database on the paper’s Web site.

Bartelme found fines for dumping toxic chemicals into sewers, shipping contaminated waste, leaking gas station pumps and more. The government says that one company’s failure to control pollutants resulted in thousands of tons of toxic air emissions being released into communities around their mills.

“Meanwhile, as the economic crisis has grown worse, so has DHEC’s struggle to maintain its mission. The agency slashed its budget by more than $32 million during the past year. Agency staffers are taking unpaid furloughs. Work is piling up. Officials said recently they might cut in half the number of surprise restaurant inspections the agency does in a year. Fewer inspectors will be at hospitals, daycare centers and nursing homes, and people wanting septic tank permits and other DHEC services might have to wait longer.”

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