Cheraw, South Carolina residents have lost everything, they said, because their homes and properties have been ruined by a toxic mess that was pushed onto their land during the 22 inches of rain that flooded their area of the Carolinas during Hurricane Florence. One couple, George and Catherine Martin, want to sell their house and property, but they’re certain no one will ever buy because of the toxic sludge that has run down onto their property from Highland Industries.
The toxic mess contains PCB’s—polychlorinated biphenyl—a banned cancer-causing agent that’s typically found in machinery coolant. The PCB’s were discovered in 2016 in a large ditch behind several homes near Highland Industries. In the spring of 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began a large scale clean up effort (a “superfund” site), digging up tainted soil and removing it from the backyards of several homes in the area of where the Martins live.
Decades of Trouble for Textile Company
Highland Industries, established in 1988 after it took on the equipment and leadership of what was then Burlington Industrial Fabrics Company (BIFCO), specializes in the design, manufacture, and delivery of textiles and composite materials. Highland Industries mainly produces fabrics used in the automotive industry and for the government and military. Back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, BIFCO allowed toxic chemicals to flow into a creek behind the plant. Burlington Industrial filed for bankruptcy in 2001, but years earlier in 1988, it changed its name to Highland Industries.
In September, massive flooding from Hurricane Florence forced many North and South Carolinians from their homes in areas where as much as over two feet of rain was dumped in the area in a very short period of time. The floodwaters forced several Cheraw residents from their homes and sent contaminated debris and mud into houses near the creek that runs through the Martin’s property. The toxic chemicals flowed down the creek and right into their yard, destroying the value of their home and property and leaving their life in shambles.
Lawsuit Against Highland Industries
A lawsuit was filed in late October stating that the defendant, Highland Industries, either knew, or should have known, when it bought the Cheraw plant in 1988 that BIFCO had tainted the land. Highland Industries did not start addressing the problem until 2016 when state and federal agencies started investigating, the suit states. Highland “allowed and failed to take appropriate actions to prevent the movement of the contaminants from its property into the drainage ditch/creek and onto the residential properties of its neighbors.”
The lawsuit alleges that the area was seriously contaminated with high concentrations of PCBs and that the defendant knew or should have known about the contamination and failed to take any action to remove the contamination. The plaintiffs (the Martins and their neighbors) want Highland Industries to clean up the plant property, the creek, and their property, and are asking a jury to award actual and punitive damages for the economic harm they have suffered.