ROCKINGHAM — County health officials could know next week what lab tests reveal after the state toxicologist collected recent samples from a contaminated pond.
Richmond County Health and Human Services Advisory Board members expressed concerns over pollution at the pond located off Winsor Drive near the Cordova community during their Tuesday night meeting.
The pond, investigated last month after waterfront residents noticed what appeared to be sewage floating on the surface, contained unacceptable levels of fecal coliform, according to Health Director Tommy Jarrell.
Test results from water samples Jarrell sent to the state lab revealed the contamination, and Jarrell sent a letter to people who live near the pond warning them of the environmental hazard. Signs were also posted on trees along the pond’s bank warning people to avoid boating, swimming, fishing or eating fish caught in the polluted water.
“I’m assuming you read an article in the paper a couple of weeks ago about a pond off Winsor Drive, I think it’s a two-acre pond,” Jarrell said to the board. “It’s surrounded by some homes around it. The pond had become contaminated and we strongly recommended people not use the pond for recreation and boating and fishing. We did some testing to get baseline data for the contamination and we will continue to gather more information.”
Board Chairman Thad Ussery asked whether there was any bacteria, and Jarrell said there was.
“Well, why didn’t the state find anything?” Ussery asked.
“Their investigation was only about whether a septic tank hauler they investigated had illegally dumped sewage into the pond,” Jarrell said. “And they did not find any evidence of that, so their case was closed on it. There was another office last week that came and took samples, and the levels have come down and are much better.”
That office was the North Carolina Division of Public Health. Dr. Kenneth Rudo, the state toxicologist, visited the pond last week and collected more water samples. Jarrell said he is not sure when the complete results of those tests will be available.
“There’s no test they can run to see if it was sewer that was dumped there?” Ussery asked.
“You can tell it’s fecal,” Jarrell said. “That’s documented, it’s in the report. The question is how it got there.”
Board member Emma Ellerbe agreed that the substance was sewage, based on the evidence she observed.
“You could see it,” Ellerbe said. “You could tell it’s what it was.”
Board member Paul Smart had a question about the timeline of the pollution.
“How do we know the contamination wasn’t there before this?” he asked.
“Because that morning it was clear,” Jarrell said. “And later the same day, it was full of sewage.”
Residents around the pond said that a septic service company emptied a septic tank near the pond on the morning the gooey brown matter began bubbling up in the water, streaked with an unidentified oily blue chemical. One man, Chris Howard, is convinced that the contents of that septic tank somehow got into the pond.
“I didn’t see the spill,” Howard said. “But you have a pond, and you have a sewage truck pumping sewage and within an hour, the pond was filled with sewage.”
A spokesman for the septic company said his crew was not to blame for the spill. The Daily Journal is not identifying the company because neither state regulators nor local officials have accused it of any wrongdoing.
Results from the state toxicologist could be in by next week, Jarrell said, but there is no way to know exactly when. For now, he said the pond remains a hazard and the health department is advising residents not to use it.
Reach reporter Melonie Flomer at 910-817-2673 or follow her on Twitter @MelonieFlomer.