In 1998, Carter and her neighbors sued Georgetown Steel, then owned by the company that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney co-founded, Bain Capital. They sought millions in cleanup costs and accused the mill’s owners of leaving their historic Southern neighborhood looking like it had been hit by a “chemical bomb.”
State officials determined the mill was largely to blame for the pollution. As the lawsuit dragged on for years, the steel mill filed for bankruptcy and the plant ultimately settled with the residents.
In the end, Bain walked away with more than $30 million in profits. Carter got $800.
“That wasn’t even enough to paint the house,” said Carter, who is a Romney supporter this election.
As a presidential candidate, Romney has pledged to roll back environmental regulations as a way to spur growth. Under President Barack Obama, he recently quipped, “a regulator would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their ‘dust pollution.’”
But the story of Georgetown Steel shows how Romney’s company thrived under conditions that largely allowed the emissions to continue for years, leaving locals to clean up the mess after Bain left town.
Asked to comment on the Bain legacy in Georgetown, the Romney campaign instead criticized Obama on unemployment and green energy projects. A Bain spokeswoman did not directly address the impact of the plant’s emissions but instead said the firm “undertook an ambitious plan” to turn around GS Industries and invested millions of dollars into the company.
The Georgetown saga surfaced in the mid-1990s, when South Carolina environmental officials received complaints from a local resident asking why his boat kept turning red-orange. The phenomenon was more than a nuisance, like ash from a fire, as dust aggressively stained not only nearby boats but cars and homes as well.
The Georgetown residents’ complaints came a few years after Bain Capital purchased the Georgetown mill and its sister plant in Kansas City, Mo., as part of a $24.5 million buyout deal. The parent company was later called GS Industries and became one of the largest producers of wire rods.