April 9, 2009

Florence coverage of hair testing

Event tests hair for mercury
Florence Morning News
By Jamie Durant
Morning News Health/Environmental Reporter
Published: April 8, 2009

Local environmentalists have decided on their own to investigate the mercury content in the Great Pee Dee River to prove the proposed Santee Cooper coal-fired power plant to be a bad decision.

Pee Dee doctors, lawyers, business people and resident gathered Wednesday at Jay’s Barbershop in downtown Florence to have their hair cut to be tested for elevated mercury levels.

John Ramsburgh, chapter director of the Sierra Club of South Carolina, said S.C. Says No is working in partnership with the Sierra Club to make the tests happen.

“The Sierra Club is picking up the tab,” he said. “Every indication is that there is a serious problem in the Pee Dee area.”

The coalition is particularly concerned about such vulnerable populations as the elderly, children and pregnant women, Ramsburgh said.

Dr. Weave Whitehead, a pediatrician with McLeod Pediatric Associates, said several of those at-risk people fall in his patient base.

“I support the testing primarily because of my concern for children in lower Florence County,” he said.

Whitehead said he thinks while a few people are aware of the potential for mercury contamination from the Great Pee Dee, not enough people have a true understanding of the dangers. He said he hopes the tests will help people realize the coal plant is not needed in the already contaminated region.

“I’m not going to be sad if we don’t find anything,” he said. “We certainly don’t want anyone to have mercury poisoning, but if it does not show high levels, at least it’s a baseline for future reference.”

The 600-megawatt coal-fired generation facility would be located on a 2,709-acre tract in Kingsburg, scheduled to become operational sometime after 2012 at a cost of about $1.25 billion to build.

In February, a majority of S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control Board members voted against remanding the original air permit for the proposed coal-fired Pee Dee Energy Campus to be built in Kingsburg. The board decided the permit was issued properly despite several misgivings.

The permit gave Santee Cooper permission to move forward with the process in an attempt to build two 600-megawatt boilers on the campus. The Army Corp of Engineer’s Environmental Impact Statement, which will determine if Santee Cooper can continue making progress in the permitting process, is expected this summer.

In recent months, the backlash against coal-fired power has been severe. Gov. Mark Sanford joined the opposition before the the DHEC board members’ decision. His announcement was followed by a series of press releases agreeing with his stance on the issue. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources also sent a strongly worded letter to DHEC officials to recommend a remand of the air permit.

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