COLUMBIA (AP) — The federal government and the town of Timmonsville have reached an agreement to settle allegations that the town has been risking residents’ health by improperly discharging sewage and wastewater, according to documents filed in court this week.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued Timmonsville in June, asking a federal court to order the town to address what it said were Clean Water Act violations. Problems included failing to properly clean sand filters, which officials said caused partially treated wastewater to overflow and, ultimately, flow into surrounding swamps and rivers. According to the lawsuit, a collapsed downtown sewer line caused untreated sewage to back up into several buildings and eroded some streets.
Altogether, the town improperly discharged more than 2 million gallons of wastewater into nearby bodies of water, according to the lawsuit. Untreated wastewater can contain viruses and parasites, causing health problems from sore throats and stomach cramps to cholera, dysentery and hepatitis, the agency noted.
The EPA said Timmonsville has long violated state and federal clean water policies and has failed to comply with orders to correct problems. The town has already paid tens of thousands of dollars in federal penalties after being cited by the EPA for failing to comply with permit requirements or perform work necessary for new permit approval, such as removing sludge that had accumulated in a lagoon, the agency said.
In a 90-page consent decree, filed Monday in federal court, the EPA requires that the sand filters be repaired within one year. The collapsed sewage lines must be fixed within four months of the agreement going into effect, and officials must perform various tests and submit progress reports to state and federal agencies.
Breaking the agreement can mean penalties up to $1,000 per violation per day, according to the settlement.
Earlier this year, voters in the town of 2,320 residents approved a referendum to transfer control of Timmonsville’s water and sewage to the City of Florence.
The decree also includes a requirement that Florence take action to bring Timmonsville’s systems into compliance with environmental standards and regulations. The EPA said that means Florence must ensure that known problems with Timmonsville’s drinking water, sewer and wastewater treatment systems are fixed.
Town officials and an attorney listed as representing Timmonsville did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment. In a statement, South Carolina U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles called the agreement a good result for the state.