Officials track reported illnesses after spill at plant off Ebenezer Road

Published: Nov. 3, 2023 at 5:41 PM EDT|Updated: Nov. 3, 2023 at 6:44 PM EDT
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EFFINGHAM COUNTY, Ga. (WTOC) - According to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, on Sunday, Sept. 24 , there was a spill of about 500 gallons of pretreated sulfate turpentine at the DRT America Facility located off Ebenezer Road.

They say it caused a strong smell that forced neighbors to contact the Environmental Protection Department.

“It permeates your clothes, it gets in your home, the smell, it’s just unpleasant,” said Phil Kieffer.

Kieffer lives less than a mile away from the plant and is the county commissioner representing the fifth district.

Since the incident at DRT, neighbors have been voicing their concerns on social media and talking about the smell in this area. They’ve also been calling the health district and their elected officials to talk about their safety concerns.

″That’s probably the most concerning to everybody, not knowing what the ramifications are,” said Kieffer.

Kieffer told WTOC he’s had a lot of people reach out to him saying they’ve been sick since the spill.

“I’ve heard the personal stories that are concerning, from abdominal pain, to vomiting, to nausea,” said Kieffer.

The WTOC Investigates team found this survey that’s been circling the community. It was put out by the The Costal Health District. The survey asks for people to record the symptoms they started feeling after Sept. 26.

The Coastal Health District said on the its website that it “is conducting surveillance for increases in reported illnesses and has received subjective reports of illness from persons in Effingham County. There is no way to know if illnesses are directly related to the chemical spill unless confirmed by a healthcare provider. The Coastal Health District conducts surveillance for clusters of illnesses every day, such as increases in influenza-like illnesses, gastrointestinal illnesses, and many more.”

Kieffer says he’s hoping everyone in the county will fill it out.

The WTOC Investigates team found dozens of air quality complaints tracked by the EPD about DRT dating back to 2017.

Kieffer says several places around town are being tested to find out if September’s spill has contaminated the air or the water.

“Ebenezer Elementary and Middle School they did sampling there,” said Kieffer “they’ve also conducted water sampling from one small tributary to Ebenezer Creek”.

Effingham Schools superintendent, Yancy J. Ford, releasing a statement Friday:

“..we have not had illness at school related, specifically through the nurse’s office, related to feeling bad due to a smell. I have been in contact with the EPD in regards to the smell to ensure our students and staff are safe.”

WTOC asked DRT America about the spill and the company responded with this statement:

“DRT has at all times worked cooperatively with Georgia Environmental Protection Division and will continue to do so.”

You can read a report about the spill from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division below:

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