South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

SCELP's Amy Armstrong was recently featured on WIS TV.
October 15th, 2012

Potentially cancer-causing, deadly chemicals in SC water supply

MCBEE, SC (WIS) -

A WIS investigation has uncovered dozens of cases of contaminated private well water contamination in parts of Chesterfield County. Most of the contamination is located near the town of McBee.

In 2007, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control tested 68 public and private wells there after initially finding traces of chemical contamination in the county water utility's lines in 2002. The chemicals are: Dibromochloropropane (DBCP), Ethylene Dibromide (EDB). The water company claims environmental investigators found a third chemical in the water supply; Trichloroethylene, also referred to as "TCE." Of the 68 test samples, DHEC records show 37 wells were either contaminated or showed traces of EDB and DBCP across the area.

Between 2005 and 2009, DHEC records showed elevated levels of DBCP in the Alligator Rural Water system during quarterly inspections that started in January 2005. The agency continued finding the chemical through the end of 2008. In March 2009, DHEC records showed high levels of radium in the county water company's supply.

In the weeks following a May 2009 meeting between DHEC and the water company, Alligator Water spent more than $15 million to install filtering systems to clean the chemicals out of its water system. As of a July 2012 inspection, DHEC found no traces of any chemicals in the Alligator Water system.

The evidence we found shows, since DHEC conducted the 2007 round of water testing, the agency's done little to investigate the cause of the contamination or to clean the aquifer. DHEC spokesman Mark Plowden said it's not DHEC's job to do that, "It is nearly, if not absolutely, impossible to track what farming entity used what, and when, in this type of area. To date, we are familiar with no scientific data that can specifically point to one farming operation or the other. If the USGS has discovered a "smoking gun" of any type, we have not been informed of it," Plowden wrote in an emailed statement.

In 2008, after holding a town hall meeting on the contamination in McBee, the agency handed out 22 faucet filters to the homes they found with contamination at the time. Plowden said the filter was an option for private well owners. The other option would be for the well owner to join the public water utility because it's monitored quarterly by health inspectors and is cleaned and treated daily.

DHEC acknowledged in its 2008 public hearing that the filters may not provide 100 percent protection in filtering the chemicals from a private well's drinking water.

HISTORY OF THE CHEMICALS

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DBCP and EDB in the late 1970s after collecting evidence to show the chemicals could cause cancer in humans and sterility in men, "The Environmental Protection Agency is imposing a suspension on crop application and other users of this pesticide and the Food and Drug Administration is launching a food monitoring program to determine if the general public is consuming unsafe amounts of this pesticide," OSHA Deputy Secretary Basil Whiting told reporters during a Sept. 8, 1977 press conference.

The chemicals were used extensively up until the EPA ban in 1977 by farmers; namely peach farmers across the country, according to the EPA. The chemicals were also used by manufacturing companies throughout the country.

DHEC records show the filters may not completely clean the chemicals form private well water, according to a 2008 presentation the agency made in a McBee public hearing. Of the filter's likelihood to clean the private well water DHEC's presentation reads, "…most likely clean."

WAITING ON ANSWERS

Nearly 40 years after the ban, McBee's private water supplies are wrought with the chemicals.

"This is a map of the wells that were being tested. This was my well right here; being red, you know it was greater," Darrian Sullivan said as he held the 2007 DHEC well investigation map. The agency marked the wells with EDB with red dots. Sullivan's well also contained DBCP contamination.

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