GREENVILLE -- State officials asked Monday for statewide well testing and help from the federal government after some Upstate residents were found to have elevated levels of uranium in their bodies from drinking well water.
"Right now, this is a huge unknown. We do not know how extensive this problem is," said state Sen. David Thomas, R-Greenville, who asked the Department of Health and Environmental Control to conduct a statewide assessment.
DHEC spokeswoman Jan Easterling said the agency doesn't have the resources for statewide testing and would need - and gratefully accept - state or federal money for the effort. Easterling didn't know how much such statewide analysis would cost. "We're trying to pull some numbers together on that," she said.
Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Bob Peeler wrote to Christine Whitman, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, asking that the EPA investigate how widespread the problem is.
State health officials said last week test results of 94Simpsonville-area residents who had uranium contamination in their wells showed their bodies also had elevated levels of the metal.
Uranium, formed from radium, can occur naturally and is a radioactive heavy metal. Prolonged exposure can cause kidney problems or cancer. Radium also can cause anemia, cataracts and fractured teeth, according to the Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry.
"The body of rock in Simpsonville where high levels of uranium have already been found extends into other areas of the Upstate," Peeler wrote in his Monday letter to the EPA. "Each of these areas is heavily populated and, because of recent explosive growth, many rely on private wells for water."
He asked that Whitman or EPA representatives come to the state to meet with local officials to determine the extent of the problem. DHEC plans two public informational meetings on in the Simpsonville-Fountain Inn area next week.
Peeler noted U.S. Rep. Jim DeMint has requested an emergency federal appropriation to help residents with contaminated wells hook up to public water systems.
Thomas suggested state tobacco settlement money be used to bring water to those with contaminated wells. That 1998 settlement compensated the state for the costs of smoking diseases and from it, the state gets $32million a year.