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AVX pollution map raises concerns in Myrtle Beach

The Sun News

Myrtle Beach officials say they are concerned that groundwater contamination from AVX Corp. might be more widespread than previously thought, and they are looking into whether any legal action against the manufacturer is warranted.

“We want to know what liability they [AVX] have to the city and to the residents that live in that area,” Mayor John Rhodes said Wednesday. “We’re looking at the impact this has had on those residents’ welfare and the value of their property. Also, what impact the negative publicity will have on the city.”

Rhodes said more information will be gathered before the city makes any decisions. The City Council received a legal briefing on the issue during its meeting Tuesday.

AVX officials could not be reached for comment.

The council’s concerns were spurred by a new map that shows groundwater contamination spreading from AVX’s facility on 17th Avenue South to as far north as 5th Avenue South. The pollution is mostly confined to an area between Kings Highway and Beaver Road, and it narrows the farther north it travels from AVX.

However, the map also shows contamination moving east of Kings Highway at about 12th Avenue South and into groundwater beneath hotels and businesses in the tourism district moving north -- as close as two blocks from the beach. Experts say some contamination likely empties into the Atlantic Ocean through Withers Swash.

“While it is not a dramatically larger footprint of the contamination, it certainly is the largest assessment I believe to date,” City Attorney Tom Ellenburg told council members.

The map of groundwater contaminated by the degreaser trichloroethylene, or TCE, was drawn by Charles Fetter, a hydrologist for 35 years and the author of geology textbooks used by graduate programs and universities.

Fetter did not conduct his own testing but relied on data from AVX, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and depositions from project managers working to clean up the pollution.

Fetter produced the map for Surfside Beach lawyer Gene Connell, who represents property owners who are suing AVX over the contamination. The map was included in court documents filed last month in Conway.

Fetter said in an affidavit that the map is “to a reasonable degree of engineering and hydrogeology certainty, an accurate depiction of the area to the north of the AVX plant where the groundwater has been impacted by dissolved TCE.”

AVX has admitted to polluting the city’s groundwater with TCE, but it disputes the extent of that contamination. AVX also stated in an ongoing federal lawsuit that some of the TCE could have migrated from the former Myrtle Beach Air Force Base, which closed in 1993.

Read more about this story in Thursday's edition of The Sun News