Environmental officials plan to hold a public meeting in Cheraw on Thursday about efforts to remove contaminated soil in a Cheraw neighborhood found to contain unsafe amounts of a former industrial chemical linked to cancer.
Regulators with the Environmental Protection Agency will explain their plan to excavate soil from six homes and a small children’s park after polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were discovered in the area last year. The meeting will be 6 p.m. Thursday at Long Middle School in Cheraw.
The EPA and South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) blame a former industrial fabrics plant which used the area as a sludge drying bed. The former Burlington Industrial Fibers plant operated in west Cheraw from the late 1950s until the 1980s. In 1988, the site was purchased by the Japanese auto safety parts company Takata, which then sold off the former disposal site to a developer who created a neighborhood immediately north of the site. The EPA said the Town of Cheraw was not aware of the discharges.
DHEC spokesman Robert Yanity said his agency began investigating after someone noticed “sludge-like material” on a vacant lot near Robin Hood Drive and Little John Road last summer. “When the results came back with high levels of PCBs, we began an investigation there and the surrounding area which led us to the former Burlington site,” Yanity told South Carolina Radio Network in an email.
EPA On-Scene Coordinator Matt Huyser said the expanded investigation found contaminated soil downstream of the site (via ditches and small creeks) along 37 residences and Huckleberry Park, a small neighborhood picnic spot and playground. The playground was closed in August 2016 following the discovery.
“Although they didn’t originally anticipate finding (PCBs), once they were detected then the search throughout the surface water pathway and adjacent lots expanded from there,” Huyser said.
While health officials say the nearby homes use city water for drinking, they are worried about the potential danger of elevated PCBs in the soil. PCB was often used in industrial cooling until it was banned by Congress after 1979 because of its link to cancer. However, there were no laws regarding its disposal during the time Burlington was believed to be using the sludge beds from 1961-1972.
Huyser said the EPA plans to start with soil removal from the six homes with the highest contamination levels over the next six weeks. The $600,000 cost will be paid with federal Superfund dollars. Huyser said the EPA normally tries to recoup cleanup costs from the business behind the pollution, but Burlington filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001 and broke into smaller entities. DHEC said it has no evidence Takata — and its Highland Industries subsidiary which still operates a textile plant at the site — ever released PCBs into the environment after purchasing the plant.