LETTER TO THE EDITOR: ‘Forever’ chemicals tainting Darlington County water

Our water is in danger. As the climate changes and floods become more frequent, the legacy pollutants like PFAS that factories left behind have made their way from the sludge fields where they were dumped into our waterways. Now the Great Pee Dee River and the fish we pull from it are in danger of contamination. These pollutants have also compromised the quality of our groundwater and have forced people to leave their well-water behind and switch to bottled water. But there are many residents who have no choice but to rely on well water in rural areas across South Carolina. Citizens who live near the Galey & Lord Sludge Fields on the outskirts of Society Hill are among them. Their aquifer and access to clean water are under threat. Many people in Darlington are not aware of the chemicals that could be present in the water they use daily. The most concerning is a group of chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are used in many manufactured materials. PFAS have been shown to cause potential health risks in humans (Harvard T.H. Chan, 2021). These problems include pregnancy complications, cancer, reproductive problems, weakened immune systems, low birth weight, ulcerative colitis, increased cholesterol, thyroid disease, weight gain, hormone problems, and more. They are called “forever” chemicals because the chemicals do not break down naturally in our environment. People may think they can purify their well water by boiling it. But, according to the Rhode Island Department of Health, you cannot get rid of PFAS by simply boiling the water that is contaminated. Trying to boil PFAS-contaminated water will actually cause the chemicals to become more concentrated, making it even more dangerous when ingested (Pintas & Mullins Law Firm, 2021). This is because many PFAS are designed to be flameproof and heat resistant. So what does this mean for the people of rural Darlington County? Six Darlington properties with groundwater wells have already been found to be contaminated with PFAS by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The source of the contamination is being connected to the application of waste treatment plant sludges to farmlands in our county. These PFAS sludges were from the former Galey & Lord textile mill near Society Hill. For 50 years, the Galey & Lord textile mill manufactured cotton and polyester fabrics that had PFAS applied to them. The leftovers were sprayed onto our farmlands. More people need to know that these dangerous chemicals have been dumped onto our land. This is a silent problem that could be extremely dangerous for our community. But we can make a difference when it comes to limiting the exposure to PFAS. The first step is raising awareness about the issue. We need to talk with our neighbors and let them know that if we’re swimming or fishing in the Great Pee Dee, then we are being exposed. If we’re drinking well water, we’re being exposed. The more people talking about PFAS, the more pressure there will be to find a solution. And we must find a solution.

Chalita Jackson, Darlington

(Editor’s note: The EPA has proposed putting the former Galey & Lord site on the Superfund priority list for environmental cleanup. Local officials are hopeful the site can be “remediated” within a few years.)

Author: Stephan Drew

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