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Residents' Voices Silenced by Bad Government and Toxic Industry: Murphy USA Oil Strikes Again

Richland County Land Code M-1 threatens natural habitats and

poses a health risk for residents.

September 6, 2022

By Javar Juarez

The Broad River District of Columbia South Carolina is seeing yet another gas station construction along its prominent boulevard, with no end to such developments in sight. With the South Carolina Department of Transportation’s Carolina Crossroads Project underway, companies like Murphy USA are already staking claim to Broad River Road. This is to capitalize on the new traffic patterns unveiled on August 30th, 2022, by SCDOT officials at the Dutch square mall.

In our story published on the BRBA website in June 2021, we informed the public of the dangers of the toxic benzene chemicals that children, and neighboring homes, would be exposed to if the City of Columbia zoning appeals board approved a large Murphy USA gas station at 201 Bush River Road. This site is located across the street from St. Andrews Middle School. Murphy USA has now quietly broken ground at yet another location close by, this time at 2350 Broad River Road at the former First Citizens Bank.

Residents feel that the area neighborhoods are under attack by antiquated land development codes, derelict public officials, and light industrial zoning that puts citizens' health at risk. Murphy USA and SHELL Oil company; bury large tanks underground to house toxic chemicals that are known to cause serious illness

There are currently no protections offered by Richland County Zoning from this kind of construction due to the way that our district is structured under the zoning code. Residents of the Broad River District, including yours- truly, are hard-pressed to find support from the Richland County Council to fight the construction, which began September 1st, 2022.

Murphy USA was not required to file a public notice or Environmental Impact Study because of the M-1 “light industrial zoning code.” This means that Murphy USA was given a green light to break ground to bury its toxic tanks at the Corner of Marley Drive, and Broad River Road, without any public knowledge or opposition. I contacted Richland County Councilman Paul Livingston for District 4, Allison Terracio for District 5, and Derrek Pugh for District 2. I received no comment about potentially using the county council to halt the project until an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) can be completed by Murphy USA. Councilman Derrek Pugh did respond later stating that he was unaware of the project.

This would be the second time that Murphy USA oil company would be able to build in an environmentally sensitive area in our district, near residential property, without being required to perform due diligence to protect residents and other businesses from the lasting impacts of such construction. There was no oversight, consideration, or communication from our Richland County representatives, The State of South Carolina DHEC; who ultimately approved the permit; and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which seemingly makes it easy for large oil industry to have its way.

This comes on the heels of yet another public outcry to protect communities located in environmentally sensitive areas. Residents in Lower Richland are fighting against plans to renew Westinghouse's 40-year license. Lower Richland residents are just as concerned about the serious violations, non-compliance, history of negligence from Westinghouse (large industry), and exposure to toxic chemicals that threatens public health.

The Broad River District is an area of about 16 square miles and encompasses a large portion of zip code 29210, close to downtown Columbia, Irmo, and Lexington County. 80 percent of the residents that call the area home are African American, and 65 percent are renters, with an average age of 35. It is home to more than 9,000 school-aged children. The area has long been the center of media coverage for its high crime rate, gun violence, and impoverished circumstances. But the area is also environmentally sensitive boasting hundreds of species of wildlife, and indigenous trees, and borders one of the largest supplies of our state's most precious resources, Water!

the City of Columbia Water Department supplies water to 375,000 customers according to its website. That water comes from the Broad River Diversion Canal pictured below. Benzene dissolves only slightly in water and will float on top of the water. Its vapor is heavier than air and may sink into low-lying areas of our district.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Benzene causes harmful effects on the bone marrow and can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia. Some women who breathed high levels of benzene for many months had irregular menstrual periods and a decrease in the size of their ovaries. Animal studies have shown low birth weights, delayed bone formation, and bone marrow damage when pregnant animals breathed benzene. Young women with small ovaries have a greater chance of having difficulties achieving a normal full-term pregnancy. Ironically, The Republican-led South Carolina State House just passed a bill to ban abortions in the state of South Carolina with very few exceptions.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that benzene causes cancer in humans. Long-term exposure to high levels of benzene (idle running cars, tanks, leakage, etc.), in the air, can cause leukemia and cancer of the blood-forming organs.

As if the threat to human life by toxic chest-burning, cancer-causing, life-altering chemicals wasn’t enough to give you pause, there is yet another reason that these convenience store locations popping up have residents like me blistered. Alcohol Sales & Crime are of serious concern due to the long history of crime, such as loitering, personal, and commercial property loss due to theft, and a series of murders, and violent crimes that have taken place at gas stations along Broad River Road for years. Blighting, Loss of Community Character, and overall Crime threaten the economic development and prosperity of the Broad River District.

Environmental justice in the state of South Carolina it seems is reserved for those that can afford it. Or perhaps for those who are connected to the right political forces that want to make sure that these instances do not impact luxurious, affluent communities. In Richland County South Carolina, you can count on Unincorporated areas being inundated with the worst circumstances, starved out of capital investments, heavy law enforcement presence, a crisis of housing, mental health disparity, USDA food desert designations, and a host of physical ailments caused by toxic industry, encroaching on our communities, solely for profit.

Javar Juarez is the President & Senior Director of the Broad River Business Alliance and a resident of the Broad River District.

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