Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Physicians Call on DHEC for Mercury Tests

Florence Morning News
Thursday, Dec 06, 2007

By Jamie Durant

Local doctors and environmentalists gathered Thursday in front of S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Florence office to ask the agency to test residents living in the area of the proposed Santee Cooper coal plant for mercury levels.

John Mathes, a local family practice physician at McLeod Family Medicine, said he attended the protest to voice his concerns about mercury contamination from the proposed plant.“My concern is that high mercury levels could have profound impacts on the health of our community,” he said. “I’m concerned that this hasn’t been fully researched, and we haven’t been told all we should have been told about this.”

He said he thinks DHEC should investigate the mercury levels among people who fish and eat their catch from the Great Pee Dee River in the area around the proposed plant site.

Mike King, an environmentalist and member of the Pee Dee River Watchers, lives in the area where the proposed plant would be built. The Pee Dee River Watchers is an informal group of local citizens concerned with the environmental state of the Great Pee Dee River. King said he thinks DHEC isn’t doing all it can to protect people from industry giants.

“I would like to say DHEC has a checkered past in protecting people in South Carolina from mercury poisoning,” he said.

He said DHEC does not have a policy in place for testing mercury contamination among citizens beyond telling people to see their family physician.

“It shouldn’t be like that,” he said. “It should be done on a voluntary basis. It’s very easy to do with a hair sample.”

Dr. Tim Dancy, a family medicine practitioner at McLeod Family/Sports Medicine, said he feels the DHEC policy concerning testing for mercury contamination is nothing more than a roadblock to what he thinks needs to be done.

“We need, as a public health policy, to find out how bad the health contamination is in our citizens, so that we can make an appropriate reaction to it,” he said. “I think it is irresponsible to continue in that vein.”

He said he feels DHEC should be taking proactive steps to learn more about the state of contamination in the Pee Dee, such as making mercury testing readily available to anyone with a legitimate concern.

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