Devon Forest neighbors seek transparency over plant emission worries

Members of the Devon Forest community say they want answers from the Mount Holly Century Aluminum plant after an “emission” was recorded in the past month.
Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 6:00 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 26, 2023 at 10:38 PM EDT
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GOOSE CREEK, S.C. (WCSC) - Members of the Devon Forest community say they want answers from the Mount Holly Century Aluminum plant after an “emission” was recorded in the past month.

Neighbors say they have been dealing with a gritty substance since the beginning of September.

“It’s not something like pollen that’s nice and soft. It’s a hard, silica-type sand, almost,” homeowner Nick Marino said. “It’s not something that easily comes off.”

The substance has settled onto cars, household items and other property. When it first happened, neighbors said it was a light, thin layer. After a few days, that turned into small piles.

“Didn’t think too much at first. It wasn’t a lot,” Marino said. “But as time progressed, it became more and more.”

Marino says he noticed it more often in the early mornings.

“First thing in the morning, I come out, there’s stuff all over the car,” he said. “I guess it’s prevalent, would happen overnight, maybe.”

Many who noticed the change say they were not sure how to remove the substance safely.

“If you try to wipe it off, it scratches the paint on your car,” Leslie Deaver said.

Community members were concerned about whether the substance was safe to breathe, touch or remove.

“It worries us for health reasons, it worries us for vehicles and whatever else, the school in the neighborhood,” Marino said. “We just want to know what’s causing it and a solution so it stops.”

“We’ve been here 15 years, we’ve never seen it this bad,” Deaver added.

A statement released from Mount Holly Plant Manager Dennis Harbath confirms an alumina emission from the plant as of Sept. 5:

Due to a process disruption, Century Aluminum´s Mt. Holly plant has experienced an emission of alumina, a non-hazardous raw material used in our smelting process. Local regulators were notified on September 5 and are working closely with us on the matter. Since the occurrence, a team has been working to promptly resolve the issue. Century Aluminum’s Mt. Holly plant is diligent in its safety and environmental protection measures, and, as of this time, there is no determination that the plant emitted any substance in exceedance of permitted limits, and we are investigating whether any of the emission particulate traveled beyond the plant property. Nonetheless, we are conducting a thorough internal inquiry to prevent future occurrences of this issue.

Alumina, or aluminum oxide is white or nearly colorless and used to make aluminum metals. The plant says they are working to investigate the issue and fix it.

Community members still have eyebrows raised.

“This shouldn’t be something that’s kept in the dark, reviewed behind closed doors. Let the public know what’s going on, get us involved,” Marino said. “Maybe hold an open house with Century Aluminum so we can have our questions answered.”

Neighbors asked for wider community awareness and transparency from the plant when these emissions occur in the future.

“It’s literally right across the road from us, from our backs. Were probably the closest to it in this neighborhood,” Deaver said. “That would be nice to know. ‘Hey, we’re going to release this at a certain time, this is what to expect.’ Just community knowledge.”

Harbath released a follow-up statement Tuesday saying the company is continuing to monitor progress:

As an update, we have been continuing to diligently work on resolving our process disruption and have taken a number of actions to minimize any resulting emissions. In addition, we are still in regular communication with regulators on our progress, including a recent visit to our site.