Sumter County responds to contaminated groundwater

Published: May. 23, 2023 at 9:20 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Elected officials in Sumter County are calling on federal representatives to get involved in a “serious issue” with their water supply.

The call for action comes as the U.S. Air Force continues their environmental rehabilitation project targeting toxic chemicals in and around Shaw Air Force Base.

A member of the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) told WIS that toxic chemicals known as PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, were introduced to the base through firefighting foam in 1970.

“It’s discerning. You know that it’s going on, but you’re going to let it go on? And then you’re going to put active military personnel in danger of drinking this water just like they have in other parts of the country,” said Lyle Waddell, a lifetime Sumter resident.

Waddell’s mother still washes her clothes and waters her garden with a groundwater well. He said three additional siblings grew up drinking the ground water.

Air Force officials said the foam was possibly used on base until the early 2000s before it was replaced with a more environmentally friendly alternative.

In 2010, the AFCEC determined these chemicals could have washed into water runoffs and nearby water systems.

In response, the military base said they’ve reached out to over 1,200 private properties and sampled over 250 groundwater wells.

The base said they’re currently providing groundwater for roughly 350 residents.

Currently, the cleanup efforts across the military base are ongoing and aggressive. In 2019, the base installed a state-of-the-art groundwater filtration facility targeting PFAS.

Opened in 2020, the facility treats one million gallons of contaminated water per day.

“But we have not put a blanket on the problem. What I’d like to see done is the problem resolved. And I think in order to do that, we’re going to have to bring in our federal representatives to get the resources that we need to resolve the issue,” said Carlton Washington and councilman for Sumter County.

One official from the AFCEC said an additional filtration facility is expected to be complete as early as January 2024. A smaller facility that will be treating water for a specific well on base is expected to be complete as early as summer 2024

“We want to have safe drinking water. This is our community. We are part of the community. It is our first, number one priority to keep everyone safe with their health in mind,” said Juvenal Saloman, Resident Remedial Project Manager at Shaw Air Force Base.

County council and their constituents are encouraging those impacted to communicate heavily with their federal representatives.

Meanwhile, Salomon is encouraging those with groundwater wells to reach out to Shaw Air Force base for PFAS testing.

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