Cowpens Brownfield and Lowered Environmental Expectations

The Spartanburg Herald Journal reports today on a toxic spill in Cowpens, SC.  The brownfield was created in the years 1969-90 through the dumping of waste from a textile mill into the soil under the plant. Tetrachloroethene has spread south and west of the plant in a plume intersecting with two unnamed creeks of the Pacolet River.

After Health-Tex closed the factory in 1990, the building sat empty. Cowpens police investigating a possible theft of copper in 1992 found about 20 55-gallon drums and smaller containers inside. Some were marked by hand as “contaminated” or “hazardous waste,” the Herald-Journal reported 17 years ago.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control placed the site on high priority, arranged for removal of the waste products in the building and conducted soil tests and some cleanup with grant money from the Environmental Protection Agency, spending about $300,000 between 1992 and November 2003.

-“Property owners near Health-Tex receive settlement money“. By Craig Peters. Spartanburg Herald Journal. Tuesday, July 28, 2009 at 3:15 a.m.

A U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 2002 Health Consultation for the Cowpens brownfield is available on line.   This report appears to be preliminary to a full blown Public Health Assessment, and recommends further sampling from the creeks to the north and south of the site.  There is no followup report, however.

There were a lot of plans for the Cowpens brownfield at one time.  In 1999 E2SC, USC’s eco-public policy magazine, published an article by Sonja Lynn Odom, Phillip E. Barnes, and Dr. Walter H. Peters, III projecting an “eco-park” on the 228,ooo sq. ft. site:

In April 1998, a representative of the University of South Carolina’s Center for Manufacturing and Technology (CMAT) joined the CBPT [Cowpens Brownfield Pilot Team] and presented a plan to redevelop the brownfield into an eco-industrial park.


A report for the town of Cowpens, presented in May, outlined the methods used to obtain waste stream information in the upstate. A geographic information system (GIS) database has been developed to categorize types of industry and waste streams, plus other information necessary for future expansion of eco-industrial development in the upstate (Figure 2). Current interviews of companies in Spartanburg County being conducted by Belenchia’s office and CMAT personnel have resulted in potential eco-park tenants.
Other accomplishments by CBPT members include the following:

0 A landscape architect from Atlanta recently completed a concept drawing of the Cowpens Eco-Park, which will be presented at the next CBPT team meeting (See page 9).

0 The Army Corps of Engineers submitted the site assessment report for Cowpens. This report will expedite the work plan for assessment completion.

0 A $500,000 Brownfield Cleanup Revolving Loan Fund (BCRLF) Grant was awarded to the town in June 1999 to assist in any cleanup required.

0 A $1 million Cowpens Brownfield Economic Development Initiative (BEDI) Grant was written and submitted to assist in refurbishing the building on site.

Recently, a proposal for Cowpens, titled Holistic Planning for Sustainable Development, was submitted to the EPA. In this plan a host of projects to bring about sustainable development for the community were addressed. One project involves training at town meetings on the advantages of energy and water conservation, materials reuse, and other topics related to environmental issues. Other projects that reflect the eco-development theme have been presented by CBPT team members, such as development of ecotourism activities and a nature-trail network that emphasize environmental protection and the efficient use of resources.
Within the CBPT (currently having seventy members) there is a rich blend of education, background, and experience in economic development and environmental protection. With proper planning and community involvement the eco-park concept can become a successful part of the brownfield redevelopment.

None of that happened.  The funding probably dried up in 2001.  The website for this project – – is nonfunctional.  The Cornell University Center for the Environment referenced in the report has morphed into the Center for a Sustainable Future.  The focus now appears to be international.  The push toward eco-industrial compromises through local working groups is a concept that could be renewed.

As it is, the people living in the plume are left with cash settlements amounting to this:

$1,600 per lot with a house in the plume (85) for a total of $136,000.

$500 per lot without a house in the plume (19) for a total of $9,500.

$500 Class representation fee (nine) for a total of $4,500.

Reimbursement of litigation costs of $120,000.

There is no mention of the proximity of the Pacolet River  anywhere in the sources I reviewed for this posting.
There must be, somewhere, articles and resources on the cumulative effects of these brownfields on watersheds and rivers. Would it be too much to hope for such a report in layman’s terms and specifically regarding the Broad River basin and the Santee watershed?


U.S. DHHR ATSDR 2002 consultation:

List of 33 online ATSDR health assessments for SC:

“Eco-Industrial Development – An Opportunity for South Carolina: Part 2; In the spring 1999 issue of E2SC, we presented the first of two articles on eco-industrial parks. The earlier installment focused on the Edisto River Basin Project in South Carolina; in this second part, the authors review the Cowpens Eco-Industrial Park Project.” By S. Lynn Odom, Phillip E. Barnes, Walter H. Peters, III. Environmental Excellence In South Carolina. Summer 1999. Pages 8 – 11.


Posted on July 28, 2009, in ecology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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