USGS closing in on potential water contamination source in McBee - - Columbia, South Carolina

USGS closing in on potential water contamination source in McBee


Two weeks ago, we showed you where environmental investigators found dangerously high levels of industrial chemicals and pesticides in the drinking water near the chesterfield county town of McBee.

The public water utility there filed a $450 million lawsuit against two companies, accusing them of poisoning the underground water supply.

Federal environmental investigators say preliminary evidence points to an area near McLeod Farms as one of the sources of the contamination. The farm is one of the state's largest peach producers.

Five years ago, that contamination got DHEC's attention.

"We went out and we sampled some 76 private wells," said Bob King, DHEC's deputy director of environmental quality.

In 2007 and 2008, DHEC tested private wells in and around town. Those tests show the highest contamination levels coming from McLeod Farms. Both the USGS and DHEC got tips about a possible dump site at a migrant camp on the farm.

Four years later, DHEC hasn't been back to the camp, or to any other well to check to see how high the contamination's climbed. That's until our stories ran two weeks ago. DHEC came back, after they got three calls from three private well owners, asking to have their wells tested for chemical contamination. DHEC is awaiting those results.

"This is just one of the wells we sampled and imagine to be able to produce this type of water -- a thousand gallons a minute," said Jim Landmeyer, a hydrologist from the USGS.

The public water utility hired Landmeyer and Bruce Campbell to investigate where the contamination happened and when.

"These chemicals do not degrade," said Landmeyer. "How long is this contamination going to be around? We know it was last used in the 1980s, but here we are in 2005 and 2012, seeing these things. Is it still being used? Is it just a legacy of that use?"

The USGS could be closing in on a possible source -- the peach farm's migrant camp, where the well with chemical contamination levels at 400 times the EPA limit sits.

In 2008, DHEC told private well owners in McBee that their options were to either connect to the county water utility or install filters on their private wells.

Now, many well owners we spoke with say they feel like DHEC has forgotten the problems with the water supply.

"We kind of have to wait and see what kind of information is going to be coming from the work that USGS has been doing and it may lead to that," said King.

DHEC says the haven't ruled out taking enforcement action if the USGS study shows someone carelessly, or purposefully contaminated the water supplies here. The USGS investigation wraps up in a few months. Their report could be out as soon as this coming spring.

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