Local News

Lee residents thirst for answers to contaminated wells

Posted February 4, 2016

— Residents in a neighborhood northeast of Sanford are waiting for answers – and relief – after learning their well water isn't safe to drink.

Lee County tested wells on Old Colon Road and Hawkinberry Lane last fall to create a baseline before 8 million tons of coal ash begins arriving next year for storage in an abandoned clay mine nearby. The tests showed high levels of chromium, which is known to cause cancer in humans, and vanadium, another metal that is considered toxic in large amounts, in at least 15 private wells.

County health officials said they don't know the source of the contamination, and officials are working to have bottled water distributed to the area. But residents said they want a permanent solution.

"To find out now, at this late date, you've got water that may cause cancer, that's just not acceptable," said Martha Petty, 65, who has lived in the area all her life.

"I still cook every day, and maybe I'm washing meat and I'm washing it with the sink water, and I catch myself," Petty said, noting she hasn't yet incorporated grabbing a jug of water off her porch for drinking or cooking into her daily routine. "It's just a lot to have to change up and deal with, but we have to do what we have to do."

A local advocacy group has been collecting water for more than two months to provide to residents.

Joyce Hawkins said she won't even touch the water that comes out of the faucets in her house.

"As a cancer survivor, I refuse to bathe in it because of some of the side-effects," Hawkins said. "I've just adapted, used the bottled water, used the jug water, do whatever I have to do. I improvise."

She battled cancer before moving to the area, and it returned briefly a couple of years ago. She blames the recurrence on her well water.

"After 14 years, it came back," she said.

The residents want Sanford to extend water lines to the area. Interim Lee County Health Director Heath Cain said he expects the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is reviewing the results of the well tests, to recommend a solution in the next three weeks.


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