The report showing a hexavalent chromium level of 3.92 at a property on Birchard Road.

Some residents of the Colon community have been instructed not to drink their water after baseline testing by county officials revealed elevated levels of the carcinogen hexavalent chromium in their wells, the Rant has learned.

According to publicly viewable reports at the state’s Public Health website, one property on Birchard Road showed the level of hexavalent chromium at 3.92 micrograms per liter (ug/L), fifty six times the allowable amount in drinking water. Another sample taken on the same day (November 12) at the same property showed a level of 3.61 ug/L.

Two samples also taken on Nov. 12 at another property, this one on Old Colon Road, showed levels of .42 and .54. Samples taken on Nov. 4 and Nov. 12 at a property on Post Office Road show levels of .08, just above the allowable limit of .07. Samples taken at Memory Lane and Osgood Road showed amounts of hexavalent chromium within the acceptable range.

The samples were taken after Lee County offered free testing for water wells within 1,500 feet of of Duke’s proposed coal ash dump site. Duke had offered baseline testing to residents in the affected areas, although only one accepted the offer. The county has tested water on 14 properties in the area.

Hexavalent chromium, also called chromium six, “is a toxic form of the element chromium,” “is generally man-made” and “is widely used in pigments, metal finishing (electroplating), wood preserves, and fungicides” according to OSHA.

The lay person, however, may be most familiar with its off-screen role as the antagonist in the 2000 big screen drama “Erin Brokovich,” in which an environmental crusader played by Julia Roberts fights a California-based utility company over the same type of water contamination.

Duke Energy announced plans in late 2014 to dump millions of tons of coal ash into (and on top of) empty clay mines at sites near the Colon community and Moncure in neighboring Chatham County. Even as opponents of the plans have initiated legal action, coal ash began arriving in Chatham County in October.