RIDGELAND, S.C. (WTOC) - The Environmental Protection Agency says a low level of hydrogen cyanide, a potentially deadly gas, was detected near a burning trash pile in Jasper County.
The EPA says the cyanide was located in an isolated spot in the pile. They say the gas was detected at a level three, and a mandatory evacuation is not called for until level five.
Emergency response teams have been using equipment to track and gather on-site air samples every 15 minutes since Friday. Officials tell WTOC Thursday is the first time any type of gas was detected, and they’re pulling out all the stops to protect everyone nearby.
“I think this is going to be a long and messy situation," Glenda Larios said.
Business owners surrounding the ongoing burning trash pit at Able Contracting are worried. The EPA and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control forced employees and owners to leave the area after finding the gas.
“Just based on that concern and making sure that people don’t even get a minimum exposure,” Jose Negron, Emergency Response Team On Scene Coordinator, said.
Business owners and workers were allowed to return to the area and open on Friday morning.
“Their health is most important. Our agency wants to do everything we can to protect that first. Even though it may be inconvenient, we want to make sure we are doing that as our mission,” said Ron Tolliver, EPA Community Involvement Director.
The EPA says the impact of cyanide depends on the amount of exposure. Small doses can lead to dizziness and headaches. Death is a result of chronic exposure, but that would have to be at very high levels. The EPA says the burning debris pit is not releasing levels equal to that level of concern.
Glenda Larios, who owns G&E Landscaping Services, says officials met with the area businesses. DHEC and the EPA issued voluntary evacuations last week for residents. It appears most of them left.
Thursday afternoon, officials blocked off the road so no one could get in or out during the mandatory evacuation.
“You guys put the homeowners who live here in a hotel. What are you going to do to [compensate] for us and our businesses," Larios asked.
The roads were reopened Friday morning.
As far as how long this entire project could take to fix, they don’t know. However, the EPA wants it to be as quickly as possible.
Glenda hopes it can be resolved quickly, but she doesn't see that happening.
“It’s not just my business. There are probably about six to eight businesses out there that have been jeopardized by this. We are worried about our customers, but then again, we are worried about our employees, too. We’ve got to be able to get our employees in there to make a living.”
WTOC will have a team in the Lowcountry Friday, working to find how this is impacting parents and children who are all heading back to school on Monday.