The Ditch Part Two: Residents of Chalmers Street
By Jana E. Pye, Editor, email@example.com
In the story The Ditch Part One published in the News and Press, please forgive the following error.
The City is receiving assistance in the clean up from inmates of the Prison Farm, not the Darlington County Detention Center.
You cannot report on something accurately without experiencing it, if at all possible. In the case of “The Ditch” in Darlington, that meant driving to Chalmers Street near the Hartsville Oil Mill to see- and smell- what prompted residents Evelyn Jett and Betty Mack to bring their concerns to the June monthly Darlington City Council meeting.
And, despite bags of lime dumped in daily, the stench on Tuesday, June 16th was overwhelming as temperatures soared to 102 degrees.
After the heavy rains later in the week, the strong smell was apparent through closed car windows as far over as Pearl Street.
Since that time, the City has been working actively in the area.
The question that many wondered was, what has it been like for people that actually live on that street?
On June 16, I approached a few residents. The following is a sample of the experiences and hopes for a “sweeter smelling future” are shared below.
Home of Shalanda and Antonio Eaddy
The Eaddy’s moved into their attractive brick ranch rental home four years ago with their three daughters, Makayla Brown age 17, and two younger sisters Makenna, age 13, and Makenzie, age 10.
Mrs. Eaddy was at work but gave permission for her children to talk, and conveyed her concerns via the telephone. “It’s horrible,” said Eaddy. “It makes me gag, and I don’t like to have company over because the house stinks.”
Although health issues have not been confirmed, Eaddy shared that her family has had some rather unusual health concerns after moving in four years ago. The most serious have been unconfirmed seizures experienced by her eldest daughter. The entire family all developed allergies including skin rashes and hives. “We’ve all had allergies since we moved here.” she said.
“We didn’t notice it when we first moved in, but after a few days we were like, ‘What is that smell?’ It’s worse at night sometimes.” said Mikayla. She will be a senior in high school in the fall.
The family has tried spraying air fresheners and burning candles when the odor comes indoors. “ Sometimes you can just smell it outside and you won’t smell it inside. Sometimes… it is just overwhelming. And it’s different smells. So, we don’t know it is.
We are trying to get used to it, but we wish someone would do something.”
When asked about her health issues, Mikayala shared her mysterious illness.
“Well, if you want me to be honest, when when we first moved in here I started having seizures, so…it could. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
I asked her if she had been tested for epilepsy, and she said she had.
“We don’t know what it is. That’s why my mom said it has to be something; it must be the house or something. Because I’ve never had any health issues before and for me to just (snaps fingers) just to have seizures out of nowhere and not know what causes it?”
She experiences two types of seizures; “Grand mal and petite. I’ve had both.” said Mikayla. “And I’ve never had them before. Ever.”
“Sometimes we have to spray down the house with air fresheners because it comes into the house,” said Makenzie, age 10. “If I’m outside and playing with my friends, I have to come inside because of the smell… it makes me sick on my stomach.”
She describes the smell as, “It smells like stink, like trash.”
Makenzie just completed fourth grade, and will be a 5th grade student in the fall at Brockington Elementary School.
“I go to Brockington. We are like right in front of the smell.” She said.
I asked about the smell at the school.
“Well, sometimes we are away from it so we only smell a little bit of it. But when we are like in the front where the field is at, we can smell it more.”
I asked if the teachers bring the students in.
“No, she, she just tells us not to pay attention to it. And go somewhere else where you cannot smell it.”
Makenzie said students do not smell the odor inside the classrooms in the school.
“I first noticed it a few years ago,” said Denise Foster, who rents another ranch style home on Chalmers Street. “It’s a terrible smell, something you don’t need to be smelling …especially when it gets hot.”
When asked how she would describe the smell, she said, “Like a sewer.”
Ms. Foster said that sometimes the odor gets into the home; like the Eaddy’s, she has resorted to spraying air fresheners and burning candles to alleviate the smell.
“When it comes in your house, you be sick inside your house.”
Foster has a lot of flowers growing in her yard. I asked if she gets to go out and enjoy her yard very much.
“No, no. You just stay inside.”
She has heart problems that she had prior to moving to Chalmers Street, and has not noticed any change in her health since she moved in.
Willie Mae McCants:
“I came back home in 1996, and I’ve been here since then,” said Mrs. McCants.
She has a beautiful yard with various flowering plants and bushes around all sides of her home. “My son and daughter in law take care of that,” she said. “I don’t do it anymore.”
I asked when she noticed the smell.
“It was a few years ago,” she said. “But it’s getting worse. This is just like sewage. Once in my bathtub, the water was bubbling up in the bathroom and so I had to call Harvey Davis (her plumber) and he got it snaked out. And he called the City, and they came and did something to take care of that. There was no smell then, though.”
She has not noticed any health problems. “No, just old age.”
The smell, however, has diminished her time she spends outdoors, and on her front porch.
“I don’t come out. Some days it’s bad, some better than others. Some days you can sit out and you can’t stand it.”
I asked how she feels when it’s bad.
“I feel fine, because I don’t stay out in it. I’m not out here that long. I don’t know what it is, so I don’t want to chance it
“Everybody is complaining, but nobody is doing anything,” she continued. “And it’s been going on for a long time. I don’t know what it is. I really don‘t. It doesn’t make sense.”
Mrs. McCants said she has only had on other plumbing issue- last week when she was washing clothes her sink was backing up. Again, she called her plumber, Harvey Davis, who resolved the issue.
Betty Mack spoke at City Council at the June monthly meeting along with neighbor Evelyn Jett about “The Ditch”, including her inability to wear her breathing machine she is required to use when she sleeps. She attended the meeting with her husband, Alva, who is retired from Nucor. They have lived in the home for well over 30 years. They have three children, Adrian Mack of Society Hill, Crystal Mack of Charlotte, N.C., and Andre’ Mack of Raleigh, N.C.
Their Spanish style home borders the ditch directly; on the other side of a ditch is a small home that a tree recently fell on, creating great damage.
“It’s awful,” she said. “You don’t smell too much of it now, but every now and then with the air conditioning it comes in. About one, two o’clock at night, it comes in. Now Saturday, it was awful. I put my machine on and I just had to literally take it off. And my heart doctor said it is a must that I sleep with it at all times. And I’ve been doing that pretty good until lately. Lately, I’ve not been able to keep it on all night. I keep it on for a while, they I really have to take it off. My granddaughter was here Saturday night, and she said, ‘Ma, ma- what’s wrong??’ and I said baby, it’s that ditch.”
Her granddaughter is 16 years old, and she lives in Charlotte with her mother, the Mack’s daughter Crystal Mack. They spend the weekend in Darlington often.
The Mack’s property goes to the ditch, and back.
“It smells like a dead body, or bodies are in the ditch.”
I asked if the lime is helping.
“Lime is not good,” said Mack. “Lime is not doing any good. As a matter of fact, I think it’s making it worse.”
Mack has had open-heart surgery in March of last year, and suffers from lupus. She had a stroke in 1992 and had a heart stint inserted. She must sleep with the CPAP machine for a minimum of 4 to 5 hours a night. Her skin is very sensitive. The odor gives her granddaughter headaches.
“If I am out there, like I was this morning, I have to come in and take a shower,” said Mack. “I can’t take the heat. The heat, and that scent, it’s tough. I just can’t do it.”
She said the smell has gotten so much worse.
“I said my prayers this morning, before I went to the doctor. I said Lord, I know you can work this out. And it has got to come through you, that someone will see the light that that ditch being fixed. It needs to be fixed. Starting from that stop sign by the trailer where the stop sign is at, that used to be an open ditch. They filled it in years ago. And something is stopping this ditch up. The ditch at one time used to drain. Something is making that water stop. You let it rain – oh, when it rains, it’s awful. I don’t sit on my front porch anymore. I don’t sit on the front porch for long. I go out, go where I have to go, come back and go back in this house. I couldn’t live in this house without air conditioning. And when the air is blowing at night, especially at night, the scent is coming in through the vents.”
The air vents in the home are in the ceiling, versus the floor in many homes.
“This house is old; when the air comes on, the scent comes down on you. I don’t know whether it has anything to do with the water, but we don’t drink the water. We drink bottled water.”
She hasn’t noticed any changes with the laundry. Sometimes it has rust, but they flush it out with the water.
She has noticed that her flowers are not doing well on the side where The Ditch is.
“My plants on that side are bad. That side where the bed is, used to be filled with plants but a lot of them didn’t come back this year.”
Mack said that the odor issue is the same in the winter months.
I asked if she noticed a difference after the tree fell on the other side of the ditch, on the small house next door to her.
“No, no change.”
“We’ve been dealing this for a long time. Somebody has got to do something. Look – I know you are recording this, but I got to say this. But at the meeting the other night, I listened to them talking about all that money they are going to put in lights. It’s not that important. And I wanted to jump up, and I said, ‘No, Betty., just calm down. But, you are talking about putting in lights with this going on? Even the roads are terrible in Darlington. And you are talking about putting in new lights when you already have lights up?”
Mrs. Mack read the letter written by Edgar Lawton, Jr., owner of the Hartsville Oil Mill.
“Well rain water is in there, but, something else is in there too,” she said. “You haven’t noticed the tree dying in there? So something got to be extra strong for the tree to be dying in water. There is dead tree sitting up there!”
“Years ago, things looked different things were growing. Something really has changed.
I wish they’d close it up. Is it serving a purpose? That’s what we need to know. Is that ditch serving a purpose? If that ditch is not serving a purpose, then why not close it up. Why is it open? It’s not serving me a purpose. I don’t know when we’ll see any improvement, but I am ready for it.”
The Ditch Part 3: City of Darlington performs smoke tests
Submitted by Lisa Chalian-Rock, director of planning and economic development for the City of Darlington:
On Thursday morning, June 25, City engineers at Davis & Brown found no signs of sewer blockages or breaks during a series of smoke tests in the Chalmers Street neighborhood where a foul odor has residents fuming.
The tests are part of a larger plan to identify the source, or sources, of a bad smell plaguing one corner of town.
Survey crews continue to work to get additional data on the ditch system. Problems in the grading could be contributing to a lack of flow, creating standing water and breeding an awful smell as organic material decays and bakes in 100-degree temperatures.
“Even if blockages are removed from culverts, if the ditches aren’t graded properly, the water won’t be carried away and neither will the odor,” City of Darlington Water & Sewer Superintendent Freddie Kinsaul says.
City-led crews of inmates from the Prison Farm will work the Short Coker Street area on Friday to remove debris such as trees, TVs, and tires that litter the ditch system.
The City has applied for permits to clear the ditches on railroad property and expects to have those permits in hand next week.
The majority of the affected ditches pre-date the City of Darlington, though residents over time have made adjustments and additions to them. Erosion and weather have slowly filled some areas with dirt as well.
The City engineers are contacting half a dozen property owners, some of whom live out of state, to get permission to complete the needed work.
The area sits in the shadow of the Hartsville Oil Mill, who has been assisting with the City in finding the source of the smell. Oil mill workers have removed TVs, concrete, and even a refrigerator from part of the ditch system that could be contributing to the problem. The company also found an old manhole that had been blocked in that same area. This pinch point in the system is where multiple ditches converge, and it takes a sharp turn. This may be one factor contributing to the bad smell residents are experiencing.
Davis & Brown will submit a draft proposal and estimate to clean and grade all the ditches in connection with this part of the City’s drainage system at the July 14th City Council meeting.
Also at that meeting, staff will request permission to submit an application to the State Rural Infrastructure Authority (RIA) for a $350,000 grant to implement the engineers’ plan to fix the problem in a more permanent way.
The RIA application period closes in mid September. If the grant was awarded in December, work could be bid out by February and started in April, putting the project completion date at December 2016, weather permitting.
In the last few years, the City will have spent nearly $1.5 million on improvements in the Southeast Darlington neighborhood, mostly on storm water upgrades, thanks to a series of Community Development Block Grants (CDBG).
“Besides the work in Southeast Darlington, nearly $2 million went into water and sewer improvements in the Mill Hill area not long ago. $500,000 of CDBG money will fund sewer improvements in Southwest Darlington near Allen, Reid, and South Main Streets later this year,” Rock says. “Another $500,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration will provide sewer along the Bypass to increase our attractiveness to new industry and business, and a previous RIA grant of $230,000 improved the water lines downtown.”
What the City is doing to address this issue since March
• Collect water samples along the ditches
• Perform manhole inspections in the area
• Check ditches daily and put out lime accordingly
• Remove large debris such as trees, TVs, and tires
• Have multiple crews work the ditch beginning Monday, June 22
• Remove standing water with a vacuum truck where possible
• Put out mosquito cakes in remaining standing water
• Perform smoke tests to check for sewer infiltration
• Draft a proposal to re-grade and clean the ditches for a permanent solution to be presented to City Council during the July 14 regular meeting
The Ditch Part 4: S.C. DHEC
The News and Press contacted South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (S.C. DHEC) about “The Ditch”
Cassandra S. Harris, DHEC Media Relations replied:
“We were contacted concerning odors in a ditch near Short, Anhow and Chalmers Streets in Darlington. Sampling of the ditch water was conducted by DHEC on June 15, 2015. Samples were collected from two locations. The results of this sampling indicated stagnant, non-flowing water. At this time there is no environmental and or health concern to the public.
We will continue to monitor the investigation by the City of Darlington as they look for a potential sewer leak. If a sewer leak is identified, DHEC’s role is to ensure the problem is corrected and any impact to the environment is mitigated.”
• On or about April 10, 2015, DHEC received a report from the City of Darlington concerning high fecal numbers in a ditch near Short, Anhow and Chalmers Streets in Darlington.
•April 15, 2015, DHEC conducted an industrial stormwater inspection at Hartsville Oil Mill. Deficiencies noted were related to benchmark sampling of all required discharges, not meeting benchmark parameters for the discharges that were sampled and not updating their Stormwater Plan to address staffing changes and training. There was no evidence of a sewage spill at the mill. One culvert was noted with blue green algae; all other ditches were dry.
• May 21, 2015, DHEC mailed the final inspection report to Hartsville Oil Mill notifying them of the deficiencies.
• June 15, 2015, the Hartsville Oil Mill responded to DHEC’s letter with their plan to correct the deficiencies.
• June 15, 2015: DHEC conducted a follow-up visit checking on odors in the area. Samples from the ditch along Short, Anhow and Chalmers Streets were collected.
• June 16, 2015: DHEC staff along with City of Darlington and Hartsville Oil Mill representatives walked the ditch in question. A collapsed culvert was located in the ditch, which appeared to be preventing the ditch from properly draining. In addition, an open culvert was located. The City of Darlington indicated that it is going to investigate the sewer system with smoke testing looking for blockages and potential breaks in the system and that contractors will be hired to remove the collapsed culvert to create open flow conditions.