EPA tells SC woman to leave her home after finding industrial poisons post-Florence

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The federal government has asked at least one Cheraw resident to evacuate her home after finding toxic chemicals have spread from a Superfund cleanup site into her house in the wake of Hurricane Florence, she said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had no immediate comment. However, the agency is checking soil in Cheraw since the hurricane dumped nearly two feet of rain on eastern South Carolina during the weekend of Sept. 15.

On Tuesday, the agency found toxic PCBs from a Superfund cleanup site had washed into the Cheraw house where Barbara Bullard-Mimms lives with her husband and four dogs, she said.

Bullard-Mimms said the EPA advised her to move to a motel until cleanup crews can get rid of the PCBs it found in part of her house.

“I’m going to have to leave because, obviously, it is a health hazard,’’ said Bullard-Mimms, who has lived on the property for nearly 20 years. “I have enough health issues.’’

The EPA is expected to address the Cheraw Superfund site in a news release later Wednesday.

Other property owners also have been contacted about contamination the EPA suspects washed into their yards during Florence’s torrential rains, said Bullard-Mimms and Melvin Wilkerson, who lives near a former industrial plant — now the reason for a Superfund cleanup — blamed for polluting a creek system and park in Cheraw.

“On behalf of the EPA, one of their agents, called me to let me know that he would be coming out today or tomorrow,’’ Wilkerson said Wednesday. The agency is “going to take samples’’ from his yard, Wilkinson said.

The EPA has checked dozens of Superfund cleanup sites since Hurricane Florence to see if the storm spread contaminants. But the agency has reported no major problems at most of the sites in the Carolinas and Georgia. The federal Superfund program focuses on cleaning up the most contaminated sites in the country.

In Cheraw, the EPA Superfund site is 3.2 miles long, cutting through the heart of several neighborhoods. State and federal officials said they learned two years ago that parts of the area had been contaminated with PCBs, a highly toxic material tied to skin disorders and, in some cases, cancer.

The pollution came down a drainage ditch from the former Burlington Industries factory on S.C. 9, records show. That ditch connects with creeks that flow into the Great Pee Dee River. Among the properties that had been polluted are a city park and some homes near the ditch and creeks.

After Florence roared through, concerns rose about whether pollution from the Superfund site had spread. Bullard-Mimms’ assertion PCBs were found in her home would be the first confirmation that the flood carried pollution from the nearby Superfund site.

Bullard-Mimms, who said her home was deluged with water from a nearby creek, said she is concerned that she has been exposed to the contamination. She said she has been working to clean muck from her home since Hurricane Florence came through the weekend of Sept. 15.

“ I should not have been in this all week,’’ said Bullard-Mimms.

When an EPA official told her the government would pay for her to move to a motel Tuesday night, Bullard-Mimms said she asked why.

“I said, ‘There seems to be some urgency to get me out of this house tonight. Am I reading you correctly?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ ‘’ Bullard-Mimms said.

Officials with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control declined comment when asked about the Cheraw Superfund site. The state agency said the issue is being handled by the federal EPA.

Cheraw Mayor Andy Ingram was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. But Ingram said Tuesday that he was contacted by the EPA late last week about testing his home for contamination following the flood. Ingram has a house on a creek that overflowed, flooding it.

“He wanted to know if it was all right to go on my property,’’ Ingram said.