More than one-third of the yards on a small residential street in south Columbia contained potentially hazardous pollution levels when state environmental investigators tested the soil last month to see if industrial contamination was endangering the neighborhood, The State newspaper learned Friday.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began rechecking soil in the yards Friday to verify last month’s findings on Easy Street, a quiet lane of modest houses that abuts an industrial corridor near the Hamilton-Owens airport.
Rick Jardine, an EPA official from Atlanta, said his team hasn’t “found anything to contradict” the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s lead and arsenic findings in soil along Easy Street.
But Jardine said it will take time to conclusively verify DHEC’s test results. The EPA will continue testing yards today, then be back in town early next week to complete the work. Unanswered questions are the extent and concentration of the pollution, Jardine said.
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So far, DHEC has been reluctant make public the extent of the pollution in the Edisto Court neighborhood off Rosewood Drive, but an agency map reviewed Friday by the newspaper provides perspective on the extent of the pollution.
The map shows some yards on Easy Street have lead levels up to nine times higher than the federal safety standard.
Soil in areas where children play is considered a potential health hazard if lead levels exceed 400 parts-per-million. Several readings on Easy Street exceeded 3,500 parts-per-million for lead, according to the map.
Lead can cause brain damage to young children and contribute to kidney damage and high blood pressure in adults.
Higher amounts of arsenic on Easy Street ranged from slightly above the federal safety standard to 39 times the level. The level of concern for arsenic is 20 parts-per-million. One yard registered arsenic at 782 parts-per-million, according to DHEC’s map.
Arsenic is a poison that can cause nausea, vomiting, and in certain doses, cancer.
All told, eight of 19 houses on Easy Street showed elevated arsenic and/or lead levels.
The DHEC map shows the highest pollution levels on the south side of Easy Street and along Commerce Drive, which backs up to Easy Street. Pollution levels were substantially lower on nearby Corning and Howe Streets, except for one home, the map shows.
State regulators say a long-closed fertilizer plant is likely responsible for the contamination.
The facility, the Royster Guano Co., is suspected of releasing arsenic and lead pollution onto land where Easy Street was later developed for residential use. The plant operated from about 1900 to about 1940, before a still-active asphalt plant was built on the site.
Someone drained a lake where the pollution settled and builders began putting up homes on the newly established Easy Street after World War II, say DHEC officials and area residents.
Chris Pauling, who grew up in the Edisto Court neighborhood, said DHEC didn’t find high levels of lead or arsenic at her home on Easy Street, but she remains concerned because other properties have shown contamination. She hopes the government will oversee a cleanup of any polluted land.
“Who’s to say down the line this can’t affect us, even though it wasn’t high on my land?” the 45-year-old Pauling said.
The EPA isn’t finished with its work.
If federal test results confirm DHEC’s findings of elevated levels, the EPA could launch a cleanup project to get rid of any contaminated soil. That could involve digging up yards on Easy Street or other streets where contamination is confirmed.
Jardine, a coordinator with the EPA’s emergency response and removal branch, said it might be the end of this year before any determination would be made on a cleanup.
“It could take several months,” he said. “We’re moving on this as rapidly as we can. We have to weigh this with other sites as well.”
Jardine noted that in deciding priorities for EPA cleanups, residential communities usually “go to the top of the list.”
City Councilman Moe Baddourah said he expects the federal agency will eventually launch a cleanup project.
“I do see in the future that there is going to be a cleanup that is going to eliminate the contamination,” Baddourah said. “DHEC and the EPA are going to be doing what they can to take care of people. I made it clear to them that some of these people cannot afford the cleanup effort on their own.”
In the meantime, DHEC will conduct lead and arsenic health screenings Monday and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Edisto Discovery Park Community Center on Wiley Street. Anyone who lives on Easy, Howe or Corning streets is eligible for a free screening.
View Rosewood pollution investigation in a larger map