Risk of harmful toxins in rivers rises after flooding

Risk of harmful toxins in rivers rises after flooding

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Rivers are meant to flood - it's natural.  But when industries are built in a flood plain near a river, you have to deal with the possibilities of toxins getting in to water when the river floods.  It's something North Carolina is dealing with now, and so are we as rivers continue to rise.

Waccamaw Riverkeepers Emma Boyer and April O'Leary said it's the long-term environmental risks, and risks to us causing worry to South Carolina residents, specifically, septic tanks, coal ash ponds and hog lagoons.

In the Cape Fear River Basin, people are flying in helicopters to survey the lands where industrial farms with thousands of hogs sit.  According to our sister station WECT, there are more than 2,000 industrial hog farms in that basin.  Each of them has a lagoon collecting millions of gallons of raw hog waste generated by these farms.  You can easily spot them from the air because the waste inside them looks pink. People are worried of the waste mixing with the flooded river.

A Waccamaw Riverkeeper is currently at the Waccamaw River Basin, keeping tabs on hog farms.  The riverkeeper said no hog waste from industrial farms has contaminated the river yet, that she knows of.

Another issue on the radar is coal ash ponds.  One is in North Carolina, the other at the Grainger site in Conway. The pond is owned by Santee Cooper.  Mollie Gore, the Santee Cooper spokeswoman, said the river's pressure caused seepage from the river into the pond early last week.  However, she said it's been taken care of, and the company doesn't think the river will flow to the ash pond.

Boyer said the coal ash pond is too big of a hazard to have that close to the Waccamaw River.

Common during floods, septic tanks may often leak when battling the pressure of a flooded river.  Boyer said the Waccamaw Riverkeepers found high bacteria levels after the October 2015 floods.  They attributed it to septic tanks, but can't be sure.  She expects the same this year.

O'Leary said a bag of hospital waste full of used needles washed up in a friend's yard early this week.  She said it is not safe to swim and advises everyone to stay clear of the water.  If you must go in, be sure to bath and wash your clothes, she said.

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