The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will clean up polluted yards in a Rosewood-area neighborhood with a recently discovered history of lead and arsenic contamination.
Edisto Court neighborhood residents learned of the EPAs plan at a community meeting Friday night.
I apologize that contamination exists in your neighborhood, EPA neighborhood liaison Tonya Whitsett said. (But the agency) is committed to giving you a better community.
About a dozen yards, mostly on Easy Street, will be dug up and the soil will be removed, according to plans. Agency contractors will bring in clean soil and replant grass to reduce the health threat from the toxic metals. The old contaminated dirt will be hauled to a landfill, agency officials said.
Cleanup work may not begin until the end of the year and could cost as much as $600,000. The work could take several months to complete, EPA on-scene coordinator Rick Jardine said.
Edisto Court residents said theyre glad the EPA is taking action, but questioned how the contamination affected their health through the years. Lead and arsenic exceeding federal safety standards first were discovered in some yards in July, even though the toxins apparently existed there for decades.
Generations of children have grown up in the quiet, tree-shaded area between Rosewood Drive and Shop Road.
This is a good thing about being made aware of the problem, said Bessie Watson, who heads the Edisto Court Community Council. But I still have concerns about the folks who have lived here and their health.
Watson, a lifelong resident of Easy Street, said she has a sister with cerebral palsy and wonders if pollution contributed to her medical condition.
Lead, once used widely to make pipes and paint, can cause learning disabilities in children. Certain forms of arsenic, used for years in pesticides, have been linked to cancer and diabetes.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control says it did not find unsafe levels of lead or arsenic in any of the 80 health screenings given to residents last month. Still, the tests dont show if residents ever had high levels of the toxins in their bodies. They only show recent exposure.
I wish there were a way to go back and tell what it was years ago, state toxicologist Fran Marshall said.
The threat at Edisto Court has primarily been to children who have played in the dirt and didnt wash their hands before putting them in their mouths. The drinking water in the community is safe, officials say.
During Fridays meeting, Jardine said the federal department must try to find companies or people liable for polluting yards in Edisto Court, then make them pay. Should finding someone to pay prove impossible or take too long, the agency will tap the publicly paid for Superfund, he said.
Cleaning up each yard would cost the EPA $30,000 to $50,000, Jardine told The State. The EPA already has spent about $50,000 trying to verify contamination first discovered by DHEC.
The good news, he said, is that the extent of the pollution is not nearly as widespread nor is the soil pollution as high as he first anticipated at Edisto Court. Only about a dozen of the areas houses on two streets are affected. Pollution tests the EPA conducted last month showed virtually no lead or arsenic being stirred into the air.
The EPAs cleanup plan is part of an investigation begun by state regulators earlier this summer after a consulting report identified high arsenic levels in groundwater beneath the SEACO asphalt plant on Commerce Drive. Noting that asphalt plants dont typically produce arsenic, DHEC began looking for other possible sources. DHEC and the EPA later verified soil pollution in some parts of Edisto Court adjacent to the industrial site.
State regulators say the old Royster Guano Co. is the most likely cause of the contamination. The plant, which closed in the late 1930s, made fertilizer, but the process released arsenic and lead, regulators say. An early 1900s-era cattle bathing operation also is suspected. Contamination from the property apparently washed into a farmers lake, which later was drained and developed as part of Edisto Court.
EPA officials are now researching whether a Canadian agribusiness, Agrium Inc., is liable since it acquired a later version of Royster Guano. A Virginia company that bought SEACO also could be potentially liable. Officials with Associated Asphalt are negotiating with the state to limit liability.
Ken Taylor, a DHEC official investigating the source of the pollution, said old phosphate and fertilizer sites across the state show similar lead and arsenic contamination around them. South Carolina has 10 to 15 such sites, mostly in the Charleston area, but few are adjacent to neighborhoods, he told Rosewood community residents at a meeting earlier this week.