Category Archives: Charleston Waterkeeper

This past Tuesday the Post and Courier ran an article titled “Cooper River in Charleston Among Worst for Carcinogens.”  The article states that more than 45,000 pounds of cancer-causing chemicals were released into the Cooper River in 2010 by local industrial facilities.  That 45,000 pounds made the Cooper River the sixth worst in the nation for such discharges.  It’s a striking headline that drastically underscores the need for Charleston Waterkeeper’s audit of all permitted dischargers in the Charleston Harbor Estuary–work we’ve been doing for the past year.

The article and report on which it’s based rely on data from the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory.  The TRI was created as a public right-to-know program in the wake of the Bhopal, India disaster.  The Inventory requires industrial facilities that use certain toxic chemicals to report a yearly estimate of releases to the air, land, and water.  Release is defined broadly to include everything from accidental spills, to permitted discharges of treated wastewater, to transfers of toxic chemicals for proper off site disposal.  The self-reported release estimates are compiled into the Inventory and published to the public by the EPA.

The 2010 Inventory data is the most recent data available and for the first time notes the waterways receiving the release.  In the report Wasting our Waterways 2012 Environment America and Frontier Group looked at the Inventory data by receiving waters and cross referenced the type of chemicals released with California’s list of Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity.  They then ranked the waterways by total amount of cancer-causing chemicals received.  The Cooper River ranked sixth.

Inventory data is useful because it shows what type of chemicals were released and where.  But Inventory data also has limitations–it cannot determine the human health risk associated with exposure.  That type of determination requires an environmental exposure assessment, a much more complicated and in-depth study.  Inventory data also does not indicate whether the reported releases were in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

The fact is some or all of these releases may have been lawful.  In 1972 the federal Clean Water Act set the goal of eliminating the discharge of all pollutants to our nation’s waterways by 1987.  To reach that goal the CWA created a system of permitting point source discharges called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.  Although, the nation has fallen woefully short of this goal, it’s a goal we strive for at Charleston Waterkeeper.

The first step in ensuring 100% compliance with the laws on the books. Taking the first step requires knowing whether or not any of the releases violated the Clean Water Act.  That’s the critical question the Inventory data cannot answer.  But it’s exactly the question our point source discharge audit was designed to answer.

Several months ago we began by identifying all the permitted dischargers in our watershed.  There are approximately 113 permits authorizing the discharge of pollutants into our waterways. The permit holders generally fall into two categories: industrial facilities and sewage treatment plants.  Each has its own set of issues and their permits limit pollutants unique to their treatment processes.

We are currently developing compliance histories for each discharger, and class of dischargers, and are working to identify and document the issues impacting our right to fishable, swimmable, drinkable water.  Our data and research serves as our foundation as we develop solutions and address the issues we’ve documented.  What’s more, it also supports our role as a watchdog over permit holders and DHEC.  We do this work because each of us has a right to fish, swim, and enjoy our waterways without fear of pollution.

Day Break in Charleston. Photo courtesy of

A few months ago, we had the privilege to meet Creighton Cutts, the founder of Bee Natural in Athens, GA.  Creighton had come to Charleston for a “Floatoshoot” on the Charleston Harbor for Bee Natural’s Waterkeeper Alliance campaign, and we were very impressed by his work.

Creighton designs custom beautiful Honeypot® luminaries, and has grown his business significantly since he came up with the process more than 14 years ago.  In the time since, much of his profit has gone back to non-profits (like us!) looking out for our environment, including many members of Waterkeeper Alliance.

This is where you come in!  Charleston Waterkeeper is proud to announce that if you make a purchase from Bee Natural, a percentage of the proceeds will come back to support us!  Not only will be be getting a beautiful Honeypot®, but you will be helping us protect your right to clean water.

As you can see, the Honeypot® would be a beautiful addition to your house or office.  To buy a Honeypot®, click here and make sure to note that you would like to support Charleston Waterkeeper at checkout.

On behalf of Creighton and the entire team here at Charleston Waterkeeper, thanks for your support!


Cosmos HoneyPot®. Photo courtesy of

On Friday, February 3rd, Champagne (v). for a Cause and Charleston Waterkeeper will be teaming up to host Champagne (v.) – for Charleston Waterkeeper.  We will be at FISH Restaurant, located at 442 King Street.  After a short hiatus in New York City, the Champagne (v.) – for a cause team is back in Charleston help us protect our local waterways!

Champagne (v) – for a cause presents 3 ways to make a difference.  Proceeds from select cocktails which are featured in the below video will go to Charleston Waterkeeper. Make sure to get these cocktails to take advantage of the deal: Ginger Fizz, French 442, and Le Champagne Cocktail perfected by professional mixologist, Evan Powell.

You can join us for dinner from 5:00pm-10:00pm, and then for drinks from 10:00pm-2:00pm with DJ Cilo.  Can’t wait to see you there!

Video not working above? Check it out here.

Over the past two and a half years, we’ve slowly grown from an idea to a reality.  This growth wouldn’t have been possible without an overwhelming amount of time and energy spent by countless individuals dedicated to protecting our right to clean water.

As we develop as an organization, the demands to maintain our programs, campaigns, events, and endless moving parts also increase.  For this reason, we are excited to announce that we are hiring!  To help manage the abundance of legal research we do (including, primarily, our industrial polluter review program), we’re hiring a part-time legal affairs coordinator.

Go here to see the posting

Have an interest in being a part of the Charleston Waterkeeper team?  Check out the job openings here, and be in touch.  We’re looking for a team-player, someone who can take initiative, someone who’s not afraid to get his/her hands dirty, and an all around rock star.

For the past year, Charleston Waterkeeper has been fortunate to call Harleston Village its home. The amazing team at Schmitt Walker Architects took us in during a time when we would seek out any flat surface and an internet connection to get some work done.

These past twelve months have been incredibly exciting for the organization. Having a secure space for us to call our own has done wonders for our productivity.  Because of it, we have been able to grow into the organization we are today – a more stable, more secure, and more focused.

As they say, “all good things must come to an end.”  We don’t quite believe that good things have to end, but in this case, we are leaving our wonderful Vanderhorst headquarters and are moving into a new office.  We will miss the gang over there, but we’re excited to move into our new digs.

And so, we officially present to you all, the location of our new office: 360 Concord Street, Suite 103, Charleston, SC 29401. Go ahead, write us a welcome letter; we love getting mail!

The best part about the space is that there’s plenty of it (allowing for a central location to meet with volunteers, interns, board members, host events, etc.), and it’s on the water!  Not a bad view…

We’ve got some work to do before hosting an open house, but we’re excited to get our hands dirty.  We’re so excited to have such an amazing space as our office. Come by for a visit next time you’re in the neighborhood!

We have called many place home, and looking back over the past three years, it’s pretty amazing to see how far we’ve come.  Many thanks to the countless individuals who have loaned a desk, an internet connection, or even just a roof to keep the organization moving forward in the right direction.  We are here today only because of your kindness and support.  Thank you.

For a recap, here’s a look back at Charleston Waterkeeper’s offices:

Spring, 2010 – Spring, 2011 (12-A Vanderhorst Street, Schmitt Walker Architects)

Cyrus Buffum and Natalie Taylor hard at work at the Charleston Waterkeeper office on Vanderhorst Street. Photo by Chris Schmitt. Taken on September 30, 2010.

Winter, 2010 – Spring, 2010 (Cyrus Buffum’s coffee table and just about every other coffee shop on the Charleston peninsula)

Miss Molly awaits the end of the work day while Cyrus tries to maintain order at his coffee table office.

Fall, 2009 – Winter, 2010 (91 Broad Street, Domicile Real Estate)

Related link…

Winter, 2009 – Summer, 2009 (125 Cannon Street, TheDigitel)

Charleston Waterkeeper operated out of TheDigitel's offices on Cannon Street for a number of months.

Related article…

Fall, 2008 – Winter, 2009 (A nook in Cyrus Buffum’s hallway)

Charleston Waterkeeper's first designated office space was a nook in Cyrus Buffum's hallway on Queen Street.

Related article…