Mayor of Timmonsville says water is safe to drink

Timmonsville Mayor Darrick Jackson says the water is safe to drink, and there is no need for residents to worry.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a federal complaint Wednesday saying the town's wastewater and drinking water violations are a potential risk to human health.

The complaint says the town discharged more than 538,000 gallons of untreated or partially-treated wastewater into bodies of water.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to order Timmonsville to address the imminent, substantial and potential risks to human health posed by discharges of raw sewage or partially treated wastewater into the environment.

Timmonsville Interim Town Administrator Mary Bines says they can't comment on the federal complaint because they haven't seen it.

She says they'll be in a better position to respond to the allegations lodged in the complaint when they've had a chance to review it.

Bines did give WPDE NewsChannel 15 a statement when questioned about the safety of the town's drinking water.

"It is definitely safe to drink. We would never serve unsafe water. We're concerned about the health and safety of our people also, our citizens," said Bines.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control says its policy won't allow them to say much about the situation in Timmonsville, because of the pending litigation.

The agency will say it has taken samples over the past 11 months to ensure safe drinking water.

WPDE NewsChannel 15 found out the state certified laboratory that tests Timmonsville's water stopped two weeks ago.

Davis and Brown says the town owes them $76,821.

The company hasn't sent in required monthly samples to DHEC and the EPA since March.

"It's required to be done. Water testing is required by the state of South Carolina. The wastewater testing is an EPA requirement, and it's very important to our environment and to our health," said Van Ward with Davis and Brown.

Bines says they hired Environmental Testing Services out of Conway to do the testing.

She says the company has been testing the water since March.

Our calls to Environmental Testing Services have not been returned.

The complaint says for years, Timmonsville has been in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the South Carolina Pollution Control Act and the South Carolina Safe Drinking Water Act. Timmonsville has also failed to fully comply with numerous federal and state orders to correct deficiencies, and since 2012, the town has experienced increasing difficulty operating, maintaining and in some instances, undertaking needed repairs to its wastewater and drinking water systems.

Since 2005, the EPA has issued two administrative orders directing Timmonsville to address threats to public health and the environment arising from failure to properly operate and maintain its wastewater system. The complaint documents how Timmonsville's wastewater treatment plant has been discharging partially-treated wastewater nearly continuously since September 2012, and that the town's sewer system has had several significant overflows of untreated, raw sewage from broken or blocked sewer lines.

The complaint also documents deficiencies DHEC identified with the drinking water system, including failure to maintain adequate levels of residual chlorine in the system, failure to maintain adequate fire hydrant flow pressures and failure to properly operate and maintain water filters at the main water treatment plant. Since 2007, DHEC has issued three consent orders directing Timmonsville to address threats to public health arising from failure to properly operate and maintain its drinking water system.

EPA and DHEC have been meeting with Timmonsville officials to discuss how to address the ongoing environmental and public health threats posed by noncompliance. Timmonsville has announced plans to pursue transfer of ownership and operation of both its wastewater and drinking water systems to the City of Florence, S.C., and is putting this issue to a referendum vote in a special election on June 25, 2013.

On multiple occasions since May 2012, Florence has provided assistance to Timmonsville with respect to the operation and maintenance of the sewer system. Timmonsville also currently purchases a significant portion of the town's drinking water from Florence.

Timmonsville will have an opportunity to respond to the allegations in the complaint.

If it fails to respond, the town will be held in default and the court will grant the EPA's requests.

A date for a possible hearing on the matter has not been set.