Homeowners near Huckleberry Branch Park worry about flood water contaminates
The federal government has asked four families to leave their homes in Cheraw after finding industrial poisons spread from a contaminated Superfund cleanup site during Hurricane Florence.
In a statement Wednesday night, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the storm washed sediment polluted with toxic PCBs into the living areas of four houses and into the crawl space of a fifth home. Test results showed “detectable concentrations’’ of PCBs, according to the EPA’s statement.
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, have been linked to cancer in people exposed to the toxin.
The EPA tested five homes Saturday, received sample results late Tuesday afternoon, and took “immediate action’’ to notify residents, the statement said
“Temporary accommodations are being offered to the residents of the four homes where PCB sediment was found in living spaces,’’ the agency’s statement said. “EPA is offering temporary accommodations to protect the health of affected families while response actions are evaluated and implemented to remove PCBs from the impacted homes. The temporary housing will extend until removal actions are completed and additional sampling data verifies the results.’’
The agency did not say how long the cleanup would take.
However, the findings provide a chilling example of what can happen when floodwaters overwhelm Superfund sites and spread pollution. These sites are a high priority for cleanup because they often contain substantial pollution.
In Cheraw, the EPA was in the process of cleaning up pollution from a former Burlington Industries manufacturing plant when Hurricane Florence swamped the Pee Dee region, dropping some 2 feet of rain and flooding communities like Cheraw. The cleanup work was months from completion.
The Burlington plant, on S.C. 9 in Cheraw, had allowed toxic pollutants to drain into a ditch that connected with several tributaries of the Great Pee Dee River. The contaminated creeks run through the heart of several of Cheraw’s neighborhoods. Cheraw is located in eastern South Carolina near the North Carolina border.
Barbara Bullard-Mimms, who lives with her husband and four dogs across from the Burlington Superfund site, was among those asked to leave their homes while the EPA tries to get rid of the PCBs. Bullard-Mimms said the news is disturbing because she has been working to clean sediment from her home since the storm blew through last weekend.
“I’m going to have to leave because, obviously, it is a health hazard,’’ said Bullard-Mimms, who has lived on the property for nearly 20 years. “I have enough health issues.’’
The EPA has checked dozens of Superfund cleanup sites since Hurricane Florence to see if the storm spread contaminants. But the agency has reported no major problems at most of the sites in the Carolinas and Georgia. The Cheraw pollution would be among the first documented to have occurred as a result of Hurricane Florence.
In Cheraw, the EPA Superfund site is 3.2 miles long, extending from the former Burlington plant to a city park that at one point was contaminated. State and federal officials said they learned two years ago that parts of the area had been tainted by PCBs. The EPA declared it a Superfund cleanup site this year. Highland Industries, the current owner of the site, is working with the EPA on the cleanup, the agency said.
After Florence roared through, concerns rose about whether pollution from the unfinished Superfund cleanup had spread. Bullard-Mimms, who said her home was deluged with water from a polluted creek nearby, said she wished she had known sooner about the contamination in her house near Huckleberry Park.
““I should not have been in this all week,’’ cleaning up, said Bullard-Mimms.
When an EPA official told her the government would pay for her to move to a motel Tuesday night, Bullard-Mimms said she asked why.
“I said, ‘There seems to be some urgency to get me out of this house tonight. Am I reading you correctly?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ‘’ Bullard-Mimms said.
Officials with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control declined comment when asked about the Cheraw Superfund site. The state agency said the issue is being handled by the federal EPA.
Cheraw Mayor Andy Ingram was not available for comment Wednesday. But Ingram said Tuesday that he was contacted by the EPA late last week about testing a rental home he owns for contamination following the flood. Ingram has a house on a creek that overflowed, flooding it.
“He wanted to know if it was all right to go on my property,’’ Ingram said.
Other property owners also have been contacted about contamination the EPA suspects washed into their yards, said Melvin Wilkerson, who lives closer to the former Burlington site than Bullard-Mimms.
“On behalf of the EPA, one of their agents called me to let me know that he would be coming out today or tomorrow,’’ Wilkerson said Wednesday. The agency is “going to take samples’’ from his yard, he said.