A Pickens County creek has been the focus of cleanup efforts for almost 30 years after it was contaminated in the mid-1980s. In the latest step, crews have knocked down one dam along Twelve Mile Creek, and are now working to demolish a second.
Environmental officials are concerned about the presence of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the river bottoms due to pollution from a former Sangamo-Weston plant near the creek. PCBs are a toxic chemical compound that are now banned in the US due to health concerns. The buildup of PCBs in certain fish (such as catfish) can be harmful to humans.
Sangamo-Weston, which manufactured capacitors, is estimated to have discharged more than 400,000 pounds of PCBs into Twelve Mile Creek from 1955 to 1977. The facility was placed under the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority as a Superfund site in 1990.
Craig Zeller, who oversees Superfund sites in the Southeast, says it’s a health concern.
The risk posed out there in the lake would be the potential consumption of fish that reside in Twelve Mile Creek or Lake Hartwell. If you eat enough fish for 30 years, your incremental cancer rates start to get outside the established risk range.
While the former plant site is now clean, the focus has now shifted to the contaminated creeks located downstream. Zeller says the dams are being removed to help the creek flow more naturally. The idea is that cleaner sediment from upstream will cover up the PCBs that have flowed south into Lake Hartwell.
Last month, workers removed the Woodside 1 dam near the village of Cateechee. They’re now working to clear out a second dam– Woodside 2– a half-mile downriver. Ross Self, who oversees freshwater fisheries for the state Department of Natural Resources, says things will look ugly until crews are finished.
For the next few months, it’s not going to be a pretty sight. But, I think the community’s looking forward to seeing the final product in having that stream back in a more natural condition.
The project to restore the creek, which has been ongoing in several phases since the early 1990s, tests local residents’ patience. The Woodside 2 removal will not be finished for another 18 months. Self says the latest delays were due to three snowstorms that blew through the area during the first dam’s removal.
Had this project started a year or so ago, it would have probably been further along because we weren’t having rain or snow… They had some weather working against them the last few months.
Schlumberger Technologies, the current owner of the Sangamo site, is paying for the cleanup. Schlumberger is responsible for contracting out the demolition, but is working closely with a board of trustees representing six South Carolina government agencies involved with the state’s rivers.
Officials are also looking at a third dam along the creek that is not currently scheduled to be removed.