Families urged to leave homes after industrial toxins spread from Florence flooding

Homes were flooded with sediment contaminated by cancer causing chemicals.

Nearly two weeks after making landfall in North Carolina, river flooding continues in northeastern South Carolina. (Credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
Nearly two weeks after making landfall in North Carolina, river flooding continues in northeastern South Carolina. (Credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Four families in Cheraw, South Carolina have been told to leave their homes after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found toxic chemicals present that had spread due to Hurricane Florence.

The industrial pollutants mixed with sediment washed into homes by the storm, The State reported Wednesday. According to a statement by the EPA shared with ThinkProgress, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) — cancer causing chemicals — were found in “detectable concentrations” in the living areas of four homes and the crawl space of a fifth.

The EPA said it took “immediate action” to notify residents after it received the results from sampling on September 25. For those whose living spaces were affected, they have been offered temporary accommodations by the EPA to “protect the health of affected families while response actions are evaluated and implemented to remove PCBs from the impacted homes.”

Cleanup is underway, and while the EPA did not say how long it would take, temporary housing for the four families will be provided until the contamination is removed. The agency is also coordinating with the town’s mayor as well as other local officials and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

The EPA continues to check more than 70 Superfund sites that were in the line of Hurricane Florence. According to The State, this may be among the first reported instances of Superfund contamination impacting families due to the hurricane.


The news has been unsettling to residents. And fears over contamination from the hurricane’s impact have been widespread across the Carolinas as many toxic sites have been put at risk, from coal ash sites to hog waste lagoons.

Homes in the area are located near the Burlington Superfund site, which had been polluted by a former Burlington Industries manufacturing plant (the Greensboro, North Carolina headquartered company makes fabrics). The current owner of the site, Highland Industries, is working with the EPA on the cleanup.

The EPA cleanup process to address soil contamination at the site — which was added to the National Priorities List in May — was just months away from completion when Florence caused the area to flood with roughly two feet of rain. Tributaries to the Pee Dee River flooded parts of Cheraw, leading to the contaminated sediment entering homes.

Speaking to The State, local resident Barbara Bullard-Mimms said she wishes she had known sooner about the contamination because she has been busy cleaning up her house from the flooding. “I should not have been in this all week,” she said.


Further recounting her interaction with the EPA, Bullard-Mimms described: “I said, ‘There seems to be some urgency to get me out of this house tonight. Am I reading you correctly?’ And he said, ‘Yes.'”