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None of S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley’s new appointees to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) board are responding to community inquiries about a major pollution scandal in the Palmetto Upstate.

So much for transparency and accountability, right?

“I have called all of Nikki Haley’s newly appointed board for DHEC to ask why this agency was allowed to shirk the responsibility of protecting the environment and the people of this state,” says Lisa Nielsen, a resident of the community impacted by the pollution. “Not one single call was returned. How can we continue to support an agency that is self-governing, self-investigating and reports to no one but themselves?”

That’s a good question … DHEC has always been an “island” of state government that routinely evades responsibility for its actions (and inactions), but these days it has a clear line of accountability that can be traced directly to the governor’s office. That’s because Haley removed all but one board member shortly after taking office.

For those of you unfamiliar with the pollution scandal we’re referring to, DHEC officials acknowledged at a meeting last week that it knew hazardous waste was being released from the former Hoechst chemical facility in Spartanburg County. In fact, the agency has apparently known about the pollution for over a decade – it just never warned anyone.

None of Haley’s appointees attended last week’s meeting.

Obviously, we’re not big “greenies” here at FITS, but you can see how that sort of failure to disclose might piss people off – particularly those who have lost loved ones as a result of pollution they were never warned about.

This scandal first broke open last November, when WSPA TV 7 (Spartanburg, SC) did a three-part series entitled “Shadow of Sickness.” That series documented the extensive environmental pollution that was allegedly caused by the Hoechst plant – which was operated by the company from 1967 to 1998 near Cowpens, S.C.

As many as three dozen people may have died as a result of pollution associated with the  plant – most of them succumbing to various forms of cancer. Not only that, the contamination may have caused lasting environmental damage to the area – as well as communities located downstream from the location of the plant.

“Our beautiful natural resource, the Pacolet River, is destroyed forever with no hope of anything ever living in it again,” Nielsen says, “Only dark colored rocks and plastic chips fill this waterway now. Even if Hoechst had been fined, state law requires that the polluter is given back part of this fine. Where is the incentive not to do this again if the punishment for killing the environment and it’s people doesn’t hurt?”

Again, that’s a good question …

Hoechst has never been fined by DHEC – even though a former executive for the firm has acknowledged that it is “possible” that the company’s pollution led to some of the Upstate deaths. Not only that, in addition to its failure to warn local residents – as recently as last year DHEC was downplaying the rash of cancer cases allegedly caused by the pollution.

“Our community was never warned of the pollution and we were collateral damage for a greedy industry and equally greedy state agency,” Nielsen says.

Nielsen’s community is now pressuring S.C. Attorney General Alan Wilson to seek a criminal indictment against Hoechst’s current owners. Its attorney, S.C. Democratic party chairman Dick Harpootlian, is representing the community in that case. Harpootlian is also lead counsel on a mass tort case against the company that once operated the facility.

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