Soil tests in a Columbia neighborhood have found lead and arsenic in some people’s yards at levels above what is considered natural for this part of the state, state regulators said Monday.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control’s findings for the first time verify elevated amounts of the poisonous metals in the Edisto Court community, a working-class neighborhood that abuts an old industrial corridor off Rosewood Drive.
Last week, DHEC officials said they had found arsenic and lead in some yards, but did not say whether the amounts were anything unusual.
Regulators confirmed Monday that some levels exceed safety standards. DHEC declined to provide specific data or how many of the approximately 50 yards contained higher-than-normal arsenic and lead levels. They did not provide data on typical levels for the area.
But officials began notifying residents Monday about the agency’s preliminary test results and offering precautionary advice on how to avoid lead and arsenic exposure.
Lead is a particular concern for young children, who can suffer learning disabilities if exposed to sufficient amounts. They can be exposed by digging or rolling around in the dirt and putting their hands in their mouths.
While state and federal regulators plan more tests to better understand the extent of the contamination in Edisto Court, DHEC said it also will begin offering free lead tests to Edisto Court residents who are concerned about their health.
Screening will begin today at DHEC’s Richland County health department for anyone interested, agency spokesman Mark Plowden said.
“DHEC is going to make available a screening test to determine any possible lead exposure,’’ Plowden said. “Anybody that comes and would like to be tested and claims to live in that area will be accommodated.’’
Arsenic and lead are believed to have trickled from an old fertilizer plant along Commerce Drive in the early 1900s, before homes were built along Easy, Corning and Howe streets, regulators said. The contamination was discovered during pollution tests at the SEACO asphalt plant, which now occupies the area of the former fertilizer site and is expected to expand.
Monday’s findings, discussed at a community meeting, prompted a flurry of questions among residents who are increasingly nervous about industrial pollution in their neighborhood. People have long complained about odors from the SEACO asphalt plant on Commerce Drive, and in the 1990s, they battled a nuclear laundry off South Edisto Avenue.
Now, some said they must worry about how other facilities are affecting their health and property values.
Terena Johnson, a Corning Street resident, said DHEC informed her of metals contamination in her yard Monday. Johnson, who lives with her two sons, plans to have them tested for the presence of metals.
“Any percentage of this in my yard is too much for me,’’ Johnson said after the meeting. “There are kids bouncing basketballs and playing football out there all day long.’’
The Rev. Russell Moore, the pastor at a nearby church, pressed DHEC for answers on how pollution would affect Edisto Court in the future, if the agency doesn’t better police contaminating industries. “What will this community be in five years?’’ Moore asked. “Will it be a safe place for people to live?’’
City Councilman Moe Baddourah urged people to remain calm as state and federal investigators conduct more soil tests. The good news, he and DHEC officials said, is that several city parks and the City Roots urban farm did not show elevated levels of lead or arsenic in soil. DHEC tested Discovery Park on South Edisto and Cecil Park on Howe Street, Plowden said.
In notifying residents about preliminary results of soil tests in their yards, DHEC handed out fliers advising them to wash their hands after playing or working in the yard; keep windows shut to prevent dust from getting into homes; and make sure children do not get dirt in their mouths.
“If DHEC thought we were dealing with an immediate emergency, people would be removed from the area or whatever else was warranted as an emergency precaution,’’ Plowden said.