The cost of repairs and cleanup of a chemical spill at the Hanahan Water Treatment Plant that cut off fluoride treatment for 350,000 area residents probably will be between $100,000 and $200,000, a Charleston Commissioners of Public Works official said Friday.
That figure could rise, however, if the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control forces CPW to remove the fluoride from the dirt where it spilled, said John Cook, CPW’s engineering director.
CPW sent a cleanup plan to DHEC and is waiting on whether the proposed measures, which included neutralizing the spill and pumping it into storage tanks, will be considered sufficient, Cook said.
Insurance might cover at least part of the costs, he said. The spill, caused by a “baffling” error by a CPW worker Thursday, broke from a containing berm Friday, complicating the cleanup, Cook said.
The spread of the acidic spill was contained by a ditch and did not come near where water is treated, he said. The water still is safe for all uses, including drinking.
CPW engineers have determined repairing the fluoride system probably will take a month, Cook said. Finding a replacement for the large tank that ruptured will take a little time, he said.
“You don’t go to the hardware store and get them off the shelf,” he said. “They have to make them and it takes a while.”
Dental experts say going without fluoride for a month will not cause an increase in cavities in CPW customers’ mouths.
CPW still is trying to determine why the accident, which was caused when a worker told a truck driver to unload a chemical into the wrong tank, occurred.
The employee probably will not be fired for the error, which melted the tank, causing the spill. But the mistake was so unusual that the worker was tested for drug use, Cook said. The drug test came back negative, he said.
“He’s been with us for a long time, and he’s got a good record,” Cook said. “That’s what’s baffling about it.”
The tank the chemicals should have been loaded into was not even close to the fluoride tank, he said.
CPW officials will talk to the worker next week and then decide on whether disciplinary action is mandated.
The Hanahan plant serves Charleston, North Charleston, John’s Island, Seabrook and Kiawah islands, Sullivan’s Island, Hanahan and parts of Mount Pleasant and the Isle of Palms.