Enquirer Herald

EPA: Clover wells are contaminated

Jamie McMackin has worked at his family’s store, Mac’s Grill, in Clover for years.

Located on S.C. 55, within half a mile of Henry’s Knob, the store has been around since the 1940s. People can stop by for an 80-cent candy bar, a double cheeseburger or just some conversation with the McMackin family.

The store gets its drinking water from a well on McMackin’s property, as do a few family members and a neighbor.

Years ago, McMackin was surprised when he received a letter from the Environmental Protection Agency warning that the water might contain hazardous levels of cobalt and manganese.

Tuesday, McMackin and other Henry’s Knob area residents will meet with the EPA to look at some solutions to their potable water problems. The 6 p.m. meeting will be at Bethany Elementary School, 337 Maynard Grayson Road, Clover.

“This has been going on for years,” he said Thursday. “We got a letter. Then they had a meeting in Clover, where they went over everything and explained everything.”

Though ensuing tests determined approximately 47 privately-owned pieces of land within a half-mile of Henry’s Knob have drinking water wells that contain hazardous levels of these two chemical elements, McMackin said he isn’t worried.

The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control tests his water every month because it is used in the store, he said, and they’ve never found problems with it.

McMackin said he’s lived 42 years near Henry’s Knob, drinking the water. He said that he and some of his neighbors experience “hard water,” which is involves water calcifying and is typical in wells, and a few have had sand in their water. But he hasn’t heard of anything serious.

Another resident, Amanda Smith Galloway, has lived in the area since the 1980s.

“My water is great,” she said. “It’s always been great. I don’t think of any (of my neighbors) have had problems with water.”

EPA is pushing forward with plans to clean up the area and give affected residents an alternative drinking water source.

From 1947 to 1970, the 185-acre Henry’s Knob site, located at the corner of Henry’s Knob Road and S.C. 55, was an open pit kyanite mine. Kyanite is a blue crystal aluminum silicate material used in refractory and ceramic products, such as porcelain plumbing and dishware.

The search

A now-defunct company called Commercial Ores owned the property before Combustion Engineering acquired it in 1965.

The mines closed in 1970, and the property switched hands multiple times: Shamrock Properties from 1971 to 1974, York County from 1974 to 1982 and Phoenix Industries from 1982 to 1991, when it switched to a private owner’s hands.

According to the EPA website, a company tested samples from the site and found multiple elements in the site’s groundwater in 2000, due to previous mining operations.

“These levels likely occurred from acid generation from pyritic rock, which leached the metals into the groundwater,” the fact sheet reads.

Beverly Stepter, project manager with EPA, explained that the agency has a process where sites are studied and put on a national priority clean-up list. Henry’s Knob had not been on that list, but later was added.

Because ABB, a company specializing in power and automation technologies, had acquired what had once been Combustion Engineering, the former company that had mined the site, they were deemed the responsible party.

“EPA looked for the company that had the resources to take it on,” explained Barry Dillon, director of marketing and communication for ABB. “Although we didn’t own it ... we decided to step up and take responsibility.”

ABB had never mined on the property.

Stepter said the EPA entered an administrative order of consent with ABB, which agreed to perform multiple studies at the site.

“We gave them permission to conduct a remedial investigation feasibility study at the site,” she said. “What this study does is determine the nature and extent of the contamination.”

Through multiple studies over the years, the company looked at soil, sediments, surface water, groundwater and other sources, she said.

What they found was that some residents had levels of manganese and cobalt that was above secondary standards. ABB has been providing those residents with bottled drinking water, free of charge, Stepter said.

“We’re trying to look at a long-term permanent solution for potable water,” she said.

Since day one, she said, the EPA and ABB have been in contact with residents, going door-to-door, drilling test wells and exploring the best options.

Low levels of chemicals

According to the EPA’s website, manganese is naturally occurring in many surface and ground waters, although human activities are responsible for much of it. Short-term exposure effects can include lethargy and mental disturbances while long-term exposure can cause neurological impairment.

Cobalt, an essential element in people, is found in the environment and may affect the respiratory system through asthma or wheezing.

Information on the actual levels of both of these in the case of the Henry’s Knob site was not readily available Thursday, but it was indicated that no health problems had been reported.

“The good thing about this situation,” Dillon said, “is the fact that the testing has come up with pretty low levels of these chemicals, and these chemicals are not carcinogens. They are mostly naturally occurring.”

Additionally, cobalt was found in only one or two of the wells, he said.

EPA listed the site cleanup as a “non-time-critical removal action.”

Seeking solutions

Both Stepter and Dillon said they have been in close contact with residents about what they feel are solutions to giving residents cleaner water.

The four proposed solutions include:

•  Public water supply extension: extended water supply from the town of Clover, which would involve installing new water supply lines

•  Community water supply: a community groundwater extraction and treatment system would be installed. Treated water would be stored there, and water supply lines would be installed.

•  Wellhead treatment system: individual wellhead water treatment systems would be installed and kept up at private water supply wells

•  Bottled water supply: ABB would continue supplying residences near the site with bottled water

Stepter said EPA must look for solutions that protect human health and environment, among other requirements.

“Even though all of the four alternatives are protective of human health and environment,” she said, “the first one would give us a long-term, permanent solution.”

She said if tying into Clover’s supply was decided as the course of action, it would take about 18 months for ABB to implement it.

Dillon said a exact estimate on what that would cost was not available.

Clover Town Manager Allison Harvey said there have been in discussions in the past year about tying in affected residents to the town’s water lines.

“If that is the selected option, that would be paid for by a different party,” she said.

Clover gets its water from Gastonia, N.C., and tying in with any kind of line is expensive, Harvey said. There would be additional maintenance costs, she said.

Dillon and Stepter said this would be the best solution, and several residents seem to agree.

“If you take the other alternatives to people, they’re really not acceptable,” Dillon said.

Galloway said no one she had talked to was eager to tie into Clover’s lines.

McMackin wasn’t keen on the idea of buying water from Clover either, instead preferring the wellhead option – or he would consider hooking the store up to town water, but keeping his well for his home and the few others.

He worried about the cost of switching his home to the town’s water, fearing he’d see increases of at least $100 on his monthly bill.

“I don’t know it’s as bad as they’re saying,” he said. “I don’t drink water in the city (Clover). If you drink good old well water, you won’t drink anywhere else.”