The head of South Carolina’s environmental agency says inspectors have found “elevated” levels of arsenic and lead on-site at a Columbia asphalt plant.
Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton confirmed Tuesday that inspectors found the contamination last week at property owned by Seaco Inc., which is only blocks away from dozens of homes. DHEC officials believe the contamination dates back to the site’s use as a fertilizer plant before Seaco opened in 1949.
The inspection came only a week after an attorney representing the nearby residents requested state pollution records at the site. Attorney Dick Harpootlian said he was concerned that some arsenic could find its way into nearby groundwater. The Rosewood neighborhood does not use groundwater wells as a water source, instead relying on the city of Columbia’s water system.
DHEC was examining the property as part of preparations for a new owner. Virginia-based Associated Asphalt recently purchased SEACO and is looking to expand the plant. It has agreed to enter into a Voluntary Cleanup Contract (VCC) with DHEC in exchange for liability protection from any existing contamination at the site.
Templeton says state officials have asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency for help in determining how to clean up the area. The Seaco site has a history of environmental issues. Groundwater monitoring has been occurring there since 1991, when the agency received a complaint about an apparent asphalt spill. Subsequent inspections found petroleum in the water samples. The area is still believed to have unsafe levels of naphthalene, a petroleum product that can cause cancer.
Residents will have an opportunity to weigh in on the VCC and possible expansion in August, according to the DHEC website.