MERRIWETHER, S.C. - When the Rev. William Cue had a well dug at his Edgefield County church two years ago, he was shocked when drillers found a potential health hazard.
Tests of the groundwater showed high levels of radium, a naturally occurring radioactive metal that is unhealthy when ingested in large amounts.
Because the county's water system does not reach the area where the New and Living Way Apostolic Church was built in Trenton, the reverend's congregation has been without drinking water.
But Sen. Tommy Moore has a plan that finally will bring county water to faucets in the fast-growing Merriwether community.
He announced Monday that $2 million from the state's tobacco settlement money will go toward the expansion of the residential water system in the Merriwether area.
"This project will make a tremendous difference as far as health and safety are concerned," said Mr. Moore, who has lobbied for funding for years. "This is a dream come true."
The first phase of the project will bring service to about 250 homes and a Merriwether Volunteer Fire Department substation that has been without water.
"It's the irony of all ironies that the fire station has no water," County Administrator Wayne Adams said.
The substation keeps a pumper truck filled with water, but firefighters have to go three miles down the road to fill it up, Mr. Adams said. The substation was built with the plan to drill a well, but county property regulations prevented that from happening.
The funding from the tobacco settlement was channeled by Gov. Jim Hodges and the General Assembly into a program to aid rural communities with health risks, Mr. Moore said.
The remaining $300,000 needed to complete the $2.3 million project, which includes 19 miles of underground piping, will come from the Edgefield County Water and Sewer Authority.
Water Authority Director Richard Shaffer said he will begin designing the expanded system immediately. He said he expects the project to be completed in early 2002.
"I'm glad to help secure the money that will make this first phase possible," said Mr. Moore, who also gave credit to Rep. Bill Clyburn. "The challenge now is to reach more rural areas of the county with water service. This will require cooperation and creative financing, but it's something we simply have to commit ourselves to."
Specific Merriwether areas that will benefit from expanded service include the southern portion of Sweetwater Road, Randall Road, Moore Road and the Cheeves Creek subdivision. A two-mile section of Woodlawn Road extending from Martintown Road, including adjoining subdivisions, also will be included.
Residents along South Carolina Highway 19 will get service because of the potentially hazardous groundwater. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control has tested at least 24 wells in the Eureka area and found high levels of radium in the water, officials said.
Johnnie Waller, a district engineer for the Upper Savannah Environmental Quality Control in Greenwood, said the Eureka Radium Study was sparked by the radium found in the church's groundwater two years ago. The high levels are caused by granite bedrock near aquifers in the area, he said.
Since then, 21 residents on Highway 19 have been notified of excessive levels of radium in their well water, including one case where it was 24 times higher than the state's recommended level.
But there have been no reports of anyone becoming sick from the drinking water, Mr. Waller said. The sample tests were done strictly as a precaution.
"Most people are exposed daily to radium levels less than 500 millirems of radiation," he said. "This is much higher than the dose which a person could get from drinking water in the Trenton-Edgefield area."
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.
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