Enquirer Herald

Clover-area residents meet with EPA on fixes for contaminated well water

Jennifer Bell’s water is bad – “extremely bad,” if you ask her.

“If you add bleach to our water, it turns dark brown, almost black,” said the 31-year-old Clover-area resident Tuesday. “You can wash your dishes, and your fingernails will have black soot around them.”

The water, which comes from a nearby well, has a bad odor, she said.

“The water has always been bad, but they're just now starting to bring attention to it in the past three or four years,” she said.

Bell lives on Pats Road, a gravel road on the outskirts of Clover. It’s about a half-mile from a 185-acre site known as Henry’s Knob, used for mining in the early 1900s.

Hers is one of nearly 50 properties identified in a recent fact sheet by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as having drinking water wells that contain hazardous levels of manganese and cobalt because of former mining operations.

Bell and at least 100 other residents were at Bethany Elementary School Tuesday night to meet with representatives from EPA and the town of Clover, where officials presented ideas for solving the water issue.

The ideas include:

•  Public water supply extension: extended water supply from the town of Clover, which would involve installing new water suply lines. Cost estimate: $5.57 million.

•  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. Cost: $6.01 million.

•  Wellhead treatment system: individual wellhead water treatment systems would be installed and kept up at private water supply wells. Cost: $2.25 million.

•  Bottled water supply: Residents near the site would be supplied with bottled water. Cost: $1.3 million.

From 1947 to 1970, Henry’s Knob 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.

A now-defunct company called Commercial Ores owned the property before Combustion Engineering acquired it in 1965. After the mines closed in 1970, the property switched hands multiple times before landing with a private owner in 1991.

ABB, a company specializing in power and automation technologies, acquired a company that had once owned the site and was deemed a responsible party by EPA, though the company never had mining operations on the site.

“When the mines closed, the open pit mine was allowed to fill in with precipitation, creating a 7-acre, acidic pond,” explained Beverly Stepter, project manager with EPA, at the meeting. This eventually leached the metals into the groundwater.

At least six wells tested above EPA remedial action levels for manganese and cobalt. The EPA maximum for the two elements are 2.1 and .03 milligrams per liter, respectively.

Some of the wells tested as high as 10.9 and 8.56 mg/L for manganese and .211 mg/L for cobalt. About 14 more wells were above secondary maximum contaminant levels. The statistics are based on test samples performed by ABB between 2007 and 2010.

According to the Agency for Toxic Bustances and Disease Registry, both cobalt and manganese are naturally occuring and are essential in small doses for human health. Long-term exposure to manganese can cause problems in the nervous system, while cobalt exposure can cause lung and heart effects and dermatitis.

Stepter said EPA recommends the installation of water lines to the town of Clover, which could be completed in about two years.

ABB would fund the installation, and either ABB or EPA would cover residents’ connection fees.

Opinions were mixed from residents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting.

Marc Bruchon was concerned that tying into Clover’s lines would prompt annexation.

Town Manager Allison Harvey said Clover gets its water from Gastonia, N.C., and adding lines to the Henry’s Knob area would not be a small endeavor.

“We said, ‘Yes, we would (consider annexation), if that option would provide a safe, long-term permanent solution,” she said. “This is not the town of Clover trying to force the option on the Bethany community.”

But Bruchon said it seemed like the decision for installing the lines had already been made, a sentiment echoed by Jamie McMackin, who owns a store, Mac’s Grill, and lives on S.C. 55. The S.C. Department of Health and Environmetal Control tests his well water every month, he’d said, because he uses it in his store. They’d never found problems with it.

Stepter said the EPA is inviting public input between now and July 5. Additionally, she said, residents could opt not to buy water from Clover, even if the lines were installed.

Last week, several residents contacted by The Herald said they had received letters from the EPA about contamination in their wells, but they weren’t worried.

McMackin didn’t have problems with his water.

“My grandma's drank that water for 90 years, and she's still ticking,” she said.

Amanda Smith Galloway, another resident, also didn’t have problems with her water.

But after The Herald’s reporting on the wells last week, other neighbors came forward to talk about their concerns.

Bell and her grandmother, Geraldine Hughes, have used bottled water for washing dishes, preparing food and drinking. The bottled water is paid for through ABB. Affected residents can take as much of the bottled water as they want.

But Bell said sometimes it’s difficult to know when the water will be delivered, meaning they often feel like they’re rationing the water.

It’s aggravating having to pour bottled water over dishes to wash, or using it to feed her animals.

"It's hard, especially in the summertime,” Bell said. “The dogs drink more water, and you use more water in the house. It's just difficult. We shouldn't have to live like this.”