Confidential documents were stored in a warehouse following a 2017 fire at the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services in Augusta before being dumped in an Aiken County landfill, according to new information about the incident.
The confidential documents were discovered Jan. 23 and returned to Georgia authorities, who have since disposed of them, according to Chris Hempfling, deputy division director and general counsel.
Boxes full of case files from the division – which included full names, Social Security numbers and other personal information – were discovered in the Barden C&D landfill in Graniteville. They were later retrieved by the same company used to dispose of them, according to a Jan. 27 statement from Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian.
Hempfling said the company that was used is Junk in the Box.
"We were hired by DFACS to clean out a warehouse of fire and smoke damaged office furnishings," a statement from Junk in the Box reads. "The job was completed on time and complied with all local, state and federal statutes. Our company was given a deadline to clean out the warehouse. No special handling of material was conveyed or requested by DFACS representatives."
Hempfling said the retrieved files have been disposed of, but didn't disclose the method.
“Due to the state of the files retrieved from the Aiken landfill, shredding or incineration, which is the Division’s typical method, of the files was not a viable option,” Hempfling said Wednesday via email.
Documents from the state of Georgia containing sensitive personal information for hundreds of people were found completely intact at an Aiken County landfill last week, despite laws mandating the records must be destroyed.
“The Department worked with Richmond County officials to dispose of the files,” he said.
Hempfling said they were disposed of in a "secure location that is off limits to the public while striving to ensure they cannot be read, interpreted, or reconstructed."
Hempfling said in his initial email that the division “is evaluating the situation,” and when asked about any repercussions for an individual or the division, stated Wednesday that “The Department does not comment on any employment disciplinary actions.”
The Aiken Standard was alerted to the situation by an anonymous phone tip, and confirmed the files were in the landfill.
The official code of Georgia states that DFACS files that are inactive for three years or more can be destroyed, and also requires that confidential records “shall be destroyed in such a manner that they cannot be read, interpreted, or reconstructed.”
Hempfling said there are some documents, such as sealed adoption records, that can be kept longer than three years.