CHARLESTON, S.C. - Although the total amount of toxic waste produced by South Carolina industrial plants has dropped, many of the state's top producers are creating more waste, according to new federal data.
The Environmental Protection Agency's latest annual Toxics Release Inventory shows that toxic emissions in the state dropped 9.5 percent in 2002. The totals include chemicals shipped offsite for disposal in landfills or recycling and emissions directly into the air, water and soil.
Environmental groups said that, despite the overall drop in pollution, the EPA should strengthen regulations on chemical waste.
"We still haven't seen the decrease that we'd like to see," said Jill Johnson, the Southeast field director for Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit environmental watchdog. "There are still millions of pounds of toxins released into the air we breathe and the water we drink. And if we want to live in a healthy state and continue to attract tourists, it's going to be important for the public to really stand up and call on industry to reduce their toxic emissions."
In 2002, South Carolina facilities released almost three times more mercury, a heavy metal that can cause brain damage, than the year before.
Toxic releases also were up at many of the state's coal-burning power plants.
Emissions from Santee Cooper's Jefferies electric facility in Moncks Corner jumped 24.4 percent, and chemical waste from the utility's Cross plant rose 12.8 percent.
Santee Cooper officials said those numbers have probably dropped recently, since the utility started a program under which its ash byproduct is used as an ingredient in concrete. But the utility recently faced a federal lawsuit for violating provisions of the Clean Air Act.