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Residents warned to limit contact with contaminated soil

Recent soil and water testing in the former Francis Orchard in Haywood County have not revealed levels of contamination high enough to initiate a cleanup operation.

However, state and local health officials are encouraging residents of the Tanwoods and Orchard Estate subdivisions to limit direct contact with the soil on their properties due to elevated levels of arsenic.

In May, the N.C. Division of Water Quality’s Aquifer Protections Section tested wells and soil at homes in the two subdivisions. The water and soil samples were analyzed for arsenic, lead, pesticides and herbicides.

There are a total of 15 homes, including one under construction, in the subdivisions. Residents have been notified in writing with results specific to their properties.

Arsenic was once used as a pesticide in apple orchards. Barber Orchard in Haywood County became a Superfund site after arsenic and other contaminants were detected in the soil. The neighborhood underwent a massive cleanup that took several years and cost the federal government millions of dollars.

Based on the results from the water samples, Dr. Ken Rudo, a toxicologist with the N.C. Division of Public Health, has determined that there is no significant risk from drinking the well water in these two neighborhoods. Based on his health risk assessment, the state has issued the following general recommendations related to soil contamination:

• There may be a long-term cancer risk based on length of exposure to arsenic in the soil.

• Caution should be exercised regarding hand to mouth soil contact.

• Residents should avoid vegetable gardening in areas where there is contaminated soil.

• Residents should thoroughly wash their hands after handling soil.

• Parents of young children should exercise caution regarding the amount of soil contact due to the possibility of ingesting soil.

Absorption of contaminants through the skin is not a concern, according to Dr. Rudo. The Aquifer Protections Section will monitor the wells annually, and will continue to analyze certain areas of the subdivisions, particularly around old stumps to determine the vertical extent or depth of contamination.

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