There is no danger to the public from a reported leak from the Barnwell nuclear waste site, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control said Sunday.
Columbia television station WLTX reported several days ago that radioactive tritium had leaked from the site and was spreading south into the groundwater.
An online news site called The Resistance United picked up the news report and added the headline, “South Carolina Death Plume Confirmed: News Report — Radiation On The Move — Don’t Drink The Water!”
The TV station wasn’t nearly so dramatic in its reporting. The report said “traces of radioactive material were found in groundwater and appear to be on the move.” The station quoted Tom Clements with Friends of the Earth saying he’s worried the tritium might get into streams or wells and make the water unsafe to drink.
DHEC spokesman Mark Plowden said on Sunday the report has been causing all sorts of undue alarm.
“Claims have recently arisen in certain media, especially social media, that have gone unchallenged for their scientific validity and veracity, and have unnecessarily upset your readers and others in this region,” he said in an email to media outlets last week.
Here are the facts, according to DHEC.
DHEC has been monitoring trace amounts of tritium in the groundwater south of the Barnwell site since 1978. The plume that made the news last week is the same plume DHEC has been monitoring for years.
The highest levels of tritium have been found near Mary’s Branch Creek, an area that’s off limits to drinking, fishing, hunting, swimming and irrigation. The levels of tritium around Mary’s Branch Creek have been declining in recent years.
DHEC put new covers over some of the oldest trenches in 1991, and the new covers have reduced the amount of rainwater carrying waste into the groundwater. DHEC would enact additional measures if tritium levels were to increase.
“Most importantly, let us point out that residents of this area are not in any danger,” Plowden said.
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.