Scientists explore Langley Pond's industrial legacy in search for contamination

Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012 4:30 PM
Last updated Monday, Feb. 6, 2012 10:15 AM
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LANGLEY — Langley Pond is best known as a scenic landmark popular among anglers and swimmers, but Lucas Berresford’s job is to explore what lies beneath its surface.

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Technicians use a vibrating probe to extract sediment samples from the bottom of Langley Pond in search of metals, PCBs, and mercury possibly left by mills and other industries that used to flank the lake. The current inquiry is a joint effort between the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and Aiken County.    Emily Rose Bennett/Staff
Emily Rose Bennett/Staff
Technicians use a vibrating probe to extract sediment samples from the bottom of Langley Pond in search of metals, PCBs, and mercury possibly left by mills and other industries that used to flank the lake. The current inquiry is a joint effort between the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and Aiken County.

“What’s down there has been a subject of discussion for many, many years,” said Berresford, a South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control engineer associate. “But it’s never been thoroughly investigated until now.”

Scientists working from boats are midway through a project to collect and analyze more than 500 samples of sediment that has washed into the 250-acre lake since its creation around 1870.

“They’ll be testing for metals, PCBs, even mercury,” Berresford said. “It will give us a better picture of what is down there.”

The pond is part of the Horse Creek Valley, named for the 24-mile tributary of the Savannah River that powered the region’s industrial revolution more than a century ago. In its heyday, the creek was flanked by dozens of industries, dominated by the textile trade.

“Horse Creek feeds the lake, and the mills and other industries all discharged to that creek, even before the pond was built,” he said.

Suspicions and small-scale tests in the past — including an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency — have found varying levels of contamination that warranted a broader look, he said.

The current inquiry, begun in early January, is a joint effort between DHEC and the pond’s owner, Aiken County.

The project included transecting the pond into 200-foot grids and obtaining a sample from each one. Technicians use a vibrating probe to carefully extract sediment all the way down to the area’s original, undisturbed earth. The lake’s depth ranges from 3 to 18 feet, with layers of sediment from 2 to 5 feet.

In addition to defining the concentration of any contaminants, the sampling will also create a vertical profile to determine how far into the sediment the material can be found.

“We’ve been making great progress so far,” Berresford said. “We might even finish this part of it within the next two weeks.”

Once the samples have been collected and studied, DHEC and Aiken County hope to schedule a public meeting later this year to share the results with the community.

The mere presence of contamination in sediment does not necessarily pose a health hazard. “We have a long history, going back 15 years, of surface water samples that have come back clean,” Berresford said.

The lake, like many other waterways in the region, is under a state fish consumption advisory for mercury that recommends limits on the number of fish that can be eaten — and suggests that largemouth bass from the pond not be eaten at all.

Officials say it is far too early in the study process to determine whether remediation is needed or warranted at Langley Pond, or whether the contaminants encapsulated in its buried sediment pose a hazard.


History of Langley Pond and Horse Creek Valley:

DHEC Fish Consumption warning:

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Clean Water
Clean Water 02/06/12 - 01:10 pm
I am pleased that the South

I am pleased that the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control are doing a study of the contamination in Langley Pond. I hope the public will take an active part in this investigation. It is most important that DHEC stop misleading the public. They state that the contamination was all a past problem. There are companies and municipalities that are currently discharging into Horse Creek. DHEC issues a water book that states some of the permits that are currently in use. Also with the discharges’ are bad sewage systems, city and private owners that contribute to the problem in Langley Pond. DHEC is not testing the sediment for the E Coli virus or for fecal Chloroform bacteria. The Pond was shut down in recent years for high fecal Chloroform bacteria. There is an only one sign warning people about high levels of PCB’s and mercury in the fish in Langley Pond. People should not be feeding these fish to their children, nor should pregnant women be eating these fish. There are many more for issues that DHEC needs to address with Langley Pond. These issues are being ignored. People are still being told that Langley Pond is safe. People in authority what to continue to use Langley Pond to make money. All this will be done expense of the local community. Give Langley Pond a real clean up and everyone will be happy and safe.

Swampman 02/06/12 - 04:38 pm
A good database is always

A good database is always essential to making scientifically valid and supportable decisions. Because sediments inevitably accumulate in impoundments, Langley Pond should provide a good overview of contamination levels in the watershed. This is a worthwhile project. However, we should let the data determine whether or not actual remediation is necessary. Yes, by all means, let's strengthen the fish consumption advisory with more signage and public outreach - something, by the way, we need to do throughout the Southeast! Any of us who work in wetland and riparian ecology can tell you that we have high methyl mercury levels in lots of places, and the fish consumption advisories abound, especially in blackwater systems. The thing is that the source of most of it isn't industrial effluents, past or present, it is atmospheric deposition. And the other thing is that mobilizing the heavy metals captured in detrital deposits, as can happen with dredging, is usually a very bad idea. It can actually increase the uptake of the contaminants by benthic organisms and their passage up through the trophic levels of the food web.

Checking the sediments for E. coli (a bacteria rather than a virus) and other coliforms is not really necessary if they are showing up in the water column. And, yes, that absolutely is a public health concern.

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