EPA monitors are working with state environmental officials to test the soil and air in a Columbia neighborhood where toxic amounts of arsenic and groundwater were recently discovered.
The agency sent teams to take samples in the Edisto Court community, which is located on the southern edge of the city near the Owens Field airport.
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials say the problem dates back to the early part of the 20th Century, when the area was home to the F.S. Royster Guano Company’s fertilizer plant. The theory is that toxic runoff from the plant made its way to a nearby pond. Years later, that pond was drained and homes were built on top of it.
The Royster Site is now the location of the SEACO asphalt emulsion plant, which DHEC has been monitoring since a petroleum spill there in 1991. However it was not until last week that the agency said it learned about lead and arsenic in the area after a Virginia company expressed interest in purchasing and expanding the SEACO plant.
“Now that we know about it, we want to find out just where exactly there are contaminants, how much is there, and how far it actually reaches into the neighborhood,” DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley told South Carolina Radio Network.
DHEC and the city of Columbia will also offer free blood and urine tests at a nearby community center starting Monday.
Rick Jardine is the EPA’s on-scene coordinator. He led four different teams that took ground and air dust samples. He said he spend much of the day Friday speaking to Edisto Court residents.
“Some people are just happy that we’re here pursuing this thing, because no one here had any idea of it,” Jardine said, “They’re happy that we’re putting science to this. They certainly are concerned that their property values may be impacted.”
Jardine said lead is considered a public health hazard if it exceeds more than 400 parts-per-million. Arsenic is 40 parts-per-million. DHEC has not yet said publicly what it found when it conducted its own tests of 49 different properties on July 25. However, The State newspaper reports an agency map mentions some readings were more than 3,500 parts-per-million. Arsenic levels were 782 parts-per-million.
Beasley said the most common way for a person to be exposed to unsafe levels of the toxins is through contamination of groundwater. “Fortunately, that entire neighborhood is on city water systems,” he added, “However, what we do want to find out is whether or not there may be other means that children and adults have been coming in contact with contaminants in the soil here.”
Until they know more, Beasley said DHEC is recommending that residents frequently wash their hands and not let children play in the dirt or mud.
DHEC is maintaining a pair of websites to update the public about its continuing investigation of the former Royster site.