Lead found in water of Upstate town’s home gets state regulators involved

Belton city hall.
Belton city hall. City of Belton website.

The small Upstate city of Belton is in trouble with state regulators after a toxic heavy metal was found in the water it pipes to thousands of customers every day.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control issued a violation notice against Belton last week, saying the Anderson County city had not provided the required public notice after discovering lead in the water last summer.

DHEC officials had no immediate comment this week but said they are looking into the matter. Under the law, public water systems finding levels of lead above the safe drinking water standard must begin a public education program to let people know.

City officials issued the required public notice Thursday, a week after DHEC cited Belton for failing to provide notice, according to records provided by DHEC to The State.

At this point, it’s unclear how lead may have affected residents.

Lead, in any amounts, can be dangerous to children who drink the water. It has been tied to brain damage that can limit children’s ability to learn, among other things.

Upstate utility officials say they now plan to add a corrosion control mixture to the water to keep lead from washing off aging water pipes, often the key source of lead pollution in water systems, according to local news reports.

Corrosion control mixtures coat the pipes to keep lead from flaking off into the water. DHEC must approve the use of the corrosion controlling material, which could take several weeks to work, according to the Anderson Independent Mail.

News reports out of the Upstate have quoted local officials saying they found elevated lead levels after changing a chemical used to treat drinking water. The city receives water from the Belton Honea Path Water Authority, according to WSPA and the Independent Mail.

Bo Barnes, an official with the city of Belton, told WSPA that elevated lead levels were found in six houses, the television station reported. Barnes indicated that the lead likely came from the plumbing of older homes. Pipes from these older homes can sometimes contain lead, he said. Barnes said he’s heard from about a dozen concerned citizens.

“They were concerned that lead was coming the water from the (Belton Honea Path Water Authority) but it was coming from the plumbing,” Barnes said. “That tends to ease them.”

Testing for lead will now be done every six month compare to inspections being done every three years as DHEC typically requires, Barnes said.

Belton officials said the elevated lead levels in the water were the first they have ever registered since the federal lead and copper testing program began, WSPA reported.

In a statement, Mitchell Ellenburg, the general manager of the Belton Honea Path Water Authority, said “We understand the concerns raised by the results reported in the City of Belton. We are working closely with its representatives and DHEC to help determine the reason or reasons for their test results and to develop long-term solutions for the issues that have been raised.

In addition to the City of Belton, Belton-Honea Path Water Authority serves several other districts in the area. It is important to note that we have not found similar test results in any of the other areas we serve.”

“As we move forward with our long-term solution, it is important to note that lead in drinking water is primarily from materials and components associated with service lines and home plumbing,” Ellenburg said in the statement.

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Sammy Fretwell has written about the environment for more than 20 years. Among the matters he covers are climate change, wildlife issues, nuclear policy, pollution, land protection, coastal development, energy and state environmental policy. Fretwell, who grew up in Anderson County, is a University of South Carolina graduate. Reach him at 803 771 8537.
David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.