An iron solution shows promise as the long-sought solution to decontaminate well water in Red Bank, poisoned by industrial solvents, state environmental officials say.
A plan, to be outlined to residents Tuesday, involves injecting zero valent iron into groundwater, said Cassandra Harris, spokeswoman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The solution forms a reactive barrier that destroys solvent contamination, she said.
If the iron solution works as well as a test indicated, it will be used in three neighborhoods along Interstate 20 in central Lexington County that have similar pollution, Harris said.
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About 300 families were at risk when the pollution was discovered in the late 1990s.
Fingers of tainted groundwater are a mile long and 120 feet deep, officials say.
The cleanup is among the largest undertaken by DHEC. The agency already has spent $5.6 million on the cleanup, which could cost more than $10 million.
Nine companies paid settlements of $5.3 million in connection with the pollution. A 10th went bankrupt.
Complaints about odors and bad taste led to discovery of the pollution.
Groundwater in the area contains solvents used by manufacturers that were in Red Bank before it became a residential hub.
The problem developed slowly over 50 years — before tougher disposal requirements were put in place — as the chemicals leaked from underground tanks not inspected closely and sometimes abandoned, officials said.
The chemicals are linked to a variety of health problems, including kidney and liver damage as well as childhood leukemia.
About 50 wells have unsafe levels of the pollution. While threatened, other wells nearby were not tainted by the chemicals.
After the pollution was discovered, about half of the homes affected switched to water from the town of Lexington and Joint Municipal Water and Sewer Commission.
However, some residents whose wells are not contaminated declined to hook up with the water systems, regularly testing their wells instead.
County Councilman Bobby Keisler hooked his home up to a public water system as a precaution but still relies on his well.
“It was difficult to live with for a while,” he said of the contamination threat. “But nothing has ever shown up.”
Tim Flach: 803-771-8483
If you want to go
State environmental officials will outline their cleanup plan for tainted wells in the Red Bank area Tuesday
When: 6:30 p.m.
Where: Red Bank Elementary School, 246 Community Drive