A new EPA report says a Pickens County river that has been the focus of a three-decade cleanup is safe for swimming and kayaking.
The report comes more than a year after two dams were demolished along Twelve Mile Creek to help the river better wash out polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These cancer-causing chemicals date back to the Sangamo Weston capacitors plant that was located along Town Creek, a tributary of Twelve mile. EPA officials say the plant discharged PCBs into the creek through wastewater lagoons and hazardous waste landfills that were not lined.
The EPA previously said it believed the river was safe. But several Pickens County officials had worried that the new, faster conditions could have a negative effect, as possibly contaminated sediment along the riverbank was swept into the river.
EPA Project Director Craig Zeller said the agency took samples from the river again in April and May at the request of the local community. “I pretty much thought that the human health risks were going to be acceptable,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “And it turns out they were.” The agency released its report to the public last week.
The samples were taken along a 1.5 mile stretch of Twelve Mile Creek located between the Highway 137 bridge and the Lay Bridge located just outside Cateechee. Kayakers have begun frequenting the rapids that were exposed by the dams’ demolition.
The new report estimated that roughly 0.12-0.22 percent of the original PCB contamination remained. Samples taken from the river were well below the EPA’s “acceptable risk range,” the report said.
Fishing advisories remain in place for the river, however. PCBs accumulate in the bodies of fish, and are most prevalent inside predatory or bottom-dwelling species.
Zeller said the EPA will continue to monitor the river each year. He said, while the riverbed is largely clean now, there is still a lot of work to do at the original contamination site. Schlumberger Technologies, the current owner of the Sangamo site, is paying for the cleanup.
That work includes cleaning groundwater at the original plant site, located miles upstream. Currently, the EPA is recovering groundwater at the site, preventing it from running off into Town Creek. Zeller said there’s a fear that the current system is not able to capture all of the contaminated water.