State lawmakers created South Carolina's first State Board of Health in 1878, after a series of yellow fever outbreaks killed 20,000 Americans. A physician worked part-time to administer the agency's $2,000 budget.
In 1950, fish kills and polluted streams prompted lawmakers to add a Water Pollution Control Authority Board to the State Board of Health. When air pollution control was added in 1965, the environmental arm was renamed the Pollution Control Authority.
After a short-lived organizational split in 1970, the Pollution Control Authority and the State Board of Health were reunited in 1973 to form DHEC. Enacted into law on July 1, 1973, the provision was codified as Code Section 32-0.5 in the 1962 Code of Laws, as amended, and as Section 44-160 in the 1976 Code.
The preamble of the act states:
Whereas, it has been found and declared by the State Reorganization Commission, after examination and investigation,… to be in the public interest of the State to combine and consolidate the STATE Board of Health, the Executive Committee of the State Board of Health, the State Department of Health, and the Pollution Control Authority of South Carolina into one agency to be known as the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control which shall be governed by the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control.
Legislators have since added hazardous waste management to DHEC's roster of responsibilities (1978) and transferred three other state agencies to DHEC — the South Carolina Coastal Council, the Water Resources Commission, and part of the State Land Resources Conservation Commission (1993).
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