September 21, 2008

Three Counties Grapple With Old Pesticide Pollution

The Associated Press


Residents in three North Carolina counties have raised concerns that pesticides, used by peach farmers decades ago, may be polluting well water.

Tests done by state health officials have found 117 tainted wells in Montgomery, Richmond and Moore counties in the past year, The Charlotte Observer reported Saturday.

Contamination levels as high as 55 times the federal safe drinking-water standard have been detected and residents in 77 homes where contamination was the worst have been told not to drink or cook with their well water, the paper reported.

In Montgomery and Richmond counties, where most of the tainted wells were found, officials are trying to get enough grant money to extend water lines to the areas. That will take at least six months.

For now, state officials are delivering five-gallon jugs of safe drinking water each week to affected homes.

But residents say they were not warned early enough about the dangers that were discovered last year.

"I would like to know who was liable for putting that stuff out here years ago and not telling anybody, because they knew it was toxic," said Franklin Harper, 62, a retired truck driver in Richmond County. Harper bought 3 acres north of Rockingham 18 years ago.

Harper lives in a double-wide mobile home on former peach orchard land. He learned his well was contaminated a few weeks ago after he read a newspaper story about the toxic chemicals and requested a test.

The chemicals found include dibromochloropropane , called DBCP ; 1,2-dichloropropane ; and 1,2,3-trichloropropane and were used to kill nematodes, which can damage the roots of peach trees.

The pesticides were banned in 1977, when studies showed the chemicals were hazardous to people.

The chemicals can damage male reproductive organs and hurt the liver and kidneys.

Some residents say that, given the health concerns, they should have been warned immediately. But Montgomery County environmental health coordinator Jon Vinroot said the state advised the county "not to raise warnings until we knew what the problem was."

Tainted wells are being identified when residents ask officials to test their water.

In Richmond County, health department director Tommy Jarrell says the waiting list for testing is down to about seven or eight from as many as 50 .

Cleaning the groundwater is not a real option, said Art Barnhardt, a regional aquifer-protection supervisor in Fayetteville. It's "just not practical when you're talking about acres and acres and millions of gallons."

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