Tests: Beaufort County sludge clean of PCBs

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comOctober 16, 2013 

STOCK

Test results show no cancer-causing industrial chemicals in sludge produced by Beaufort County sewage-treatment plants, according to local water-utility officials.

The tests were part of a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control emergency order, following the discovery of high levels of the chemicals, called PCBs, in some Upstate sewage-treatment plants that discharge into rivers.

All the treatment facilities in Beaufort County -- including Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority and the Broad Creek, South Island and Hilton Head Island public service districts -- sent samples for independent testing in the past three weeks, officials from each organization said.

All the tests came back negative for PCBs.

"The whole area is in pretty good shape, from what I understand," said Kelley Ferda, general manager at the South Island Public Service District on Hilton Head.

There wasn't much fear that PCBs had entered Beaufort County water systems, but the tests are an appropriate precaution, Ferda said.

As an additional precaution, the Hilton Head Island, Broad Creek and South Island districts will re-test for the chemicals in November and December. While those tests aren't required, the S.C. Water Quality Association, to which all four water authorities in Beaufort County belong, suggested that all its members repeat the tests, according to Ferda.

"We're very pleased with these results," BJWSA general manager Ed Saxon said in a news release. "We didn't think we'd find anything, but the test results help us breathe a little easier."

At first, state environmental officials worried that PCBs flowed from wastewater-treatment plants into rivers, or that sewage sludge with elevated PCB levels had been dumped in landfills or used to fertilize farm fields.

In late September, state regulators said they had found no evidence that any rivers or drinking water had been contaminated but were investigating reports that someone had illegally dumped the contaminants in manholes or restaurants' grease traps.

Last week, officials at the Spartanburg Sanitary Sewer District identified the source of PCBs at the district's Cowpens facility, The (Columbia) State newspaper reported.

The dangerous industrial chemicals have been banned since the late-1970s.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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