Category Archives: Issues

Dear Friends,

I’m writing to share some bad news: the anti-home rule plastic pollution bill is back. The bill, pushed by plastic industry lobbyists at the South Carolina General Assembly, proposes to bar our local cities and towns from taking action to combat plastic pollution at the source.

It’s an affront to South Carolina’s long tradition of home rule. It’s not right. And, we’re going to do something about it.

I believe our local communities are in the best position, very capable, and well equipped to deal with the plastic pollution problem in our local waterways. The City of Isle of Palms and the City of Folly Beach have proven it through strong leadership on this issue. We don’t need interference from plastic lobbyists.

That’s why I’m Columbia today supporting City of Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin and standing up for our local communities and your harbor, rivers, and tidal creeks. I need your help too!

Please contact your state Representative today and ask them to oppose H.3529 (the anti-home rule bill): It only takes a few minutes to make a big impact for cleaner, healthier waterways.

Local problems demand local solutions. Together we’ll make that happen. Thank you for your support!


Andrew J. Wunderley
Your Charleston Waterkeeper


You may remember meeting Kea Payton a few years ago when she first started going out with us to grab samples. Fast forward 2 years and now Kea has finished her thesis and is ready to share what she’s learned!

Have you ever wondered about plastics in our local waterways? Kea sure did! Her project explored 4 main questions.

Question 1: How are Microplastics Distributed in the Charleston Harbor?

No significant difference was found in microplastic concentrations between several water quality monitoring sites and Breach Inlet. This means that microplastics were well-mixed, no hot-spots were found, and there doesn’t seem to be a significant contribution of microplastics coming from the ocean.


Question 2: Are Microplastics Aggregating at Flood Tidal Fronts?

Higher levels of microplastics were found within the tidal fronts. Results suggest that microplastics are aggregating at these tidal fronts with influxes of particles coming from land-based sources.


Question 3: Do Fronts Serve as a Vector for Microplastics to Enter the Marine Food Web?

Only 1% of zooplankton examined contained these synthetic particles within their gut. This means that there are microplastics available in the tidal fronts, but zooplankton aren’t eating them. This suggests that frontal zones may not serve as a vector for entry into the food web and that our primary consumers (those at the bottom of the food web) are more selective feeders than originally thought.


Question 4: Are Microplastics Found in our Local Fish Population?

All recreational fishes examined in this study contained microplastics in their GI tracts; fishes studied include Croaker, Flounder, Mullet, Red Drum, Sea Trout, Spot, and Whiting caught in the Charleston Harbor.

Broader Impacts

On average, 3 microplastic particles per liter (43 – 100 μm) are being found in the top meter of the water column in Charleston Harbor. Physical damage (i.e suffocation, blocked and/or torn digestive tracts) from the ingestion of these small particles can contribute to various health risks for the organism and the composition of the particles have been reported to leach and sorb chemical contaminants. Such properties make these small synthetic polymers a greater ecological concern as damage and chemical uptake could expand up the food web through trophic transfer. These particles were detected in local zooplankton and fishes, but the evidence of trophic transfer remains unclear. The overall presence of microplastics in Charleston, however, does suggest a potential threat to the local marine food web.

FUN FACT:  Using data collected from this study (3 particles per liter), assuming even distribution and the estimated area (36.26 km2) with the historical (3.65 m) and the maximum (15.84 m) depth of the Charleston Harbor, it is estimated that 396,937,500 to 1,722,600,000 microplastic particles (43 – 100 μm) are suspended in the water column in the Charleston Harbor; using historical and maximum depth respectfully.

Water Ball 2012 Highlights from Charleston Waterkeeper on Vimeo.

Two weeks ago, the Charleston community came together to celebrate its fundamental right to clean water.  We are happy to report that Charleston Waterkeeper’s Third Annual Water Ball was our biggest, most successful event yet!

Water Ball 2012 had an estimated record attendance of over 400 people!  (Even an ominous thunderstorm couldn’t keep people away from enjoying their evening dedicated to clean water.)  The evening began under the tents on the riverside terrace as guests were greeted by a glass of LaBubbly champagne accompanied by a classical trio’s performance of Handel’s Water Music.  At 8PM guests entered the aquarium to enjoy food from local restaurants and drinks courtesy of New Belgium Brewing, Palmetto Distributing, and ICEBOX Bartending Services.

Thanks to the incredible support from our sponsors, attendees, volunteers, and friends, Water Ball 2012 raised over $15,000 for Charleston Waterkeeper this year!  These funds will go directly to support our permit watchdog program and our water quality monitoring program.  The goal with both initiatives is to gather baseline data that will allow us to identify water pollution issues and work towards pragmatic solutions.

The Water Machine returned to the Water Ball in a never before seen way.  Representing the need for us all to come together as a community to promote and maintain clean water, guests bought light bulbs throughout the night and showed our collective support of clean water.  Water Machine 3.0 raised $3,900 at Water Ball 2012 , and with the generous support of the Bishop Family Foundation in matching every light bulb bought, we raised in total $7,800 to support the permit watchdog program and our water quality monitoring program!

Our dedication to 100% waste diversion throughout the evening was also a resounding success.  Between the collective efforts of our vendors, guests, volunteers, and staff, Water Ball 2012 produced only one bag of trash, and we were able to divert 280 pounds of recyclable material from the landfill.

We’ve received an overwhelming level of praise from attendees, vendors, sponsors, and local media – with press features ranging from Charleston Magazine to Charleston Art Mag; fashionable Water Ball attendees were even featured in Ayoka Lucas’s Style Snaps.

The Twitpic team was on hand to guarantee that all those in attendance had a chance to channel their inner Waterkeeper in this year’s Twitpic photo booth.  For a full album of all photo booth images, click the photo below.

In addition, Jason A. Zwiker was on scene to capture the evening’s success…


And finally, this year’s event would not have been possible without the amazing group of sponsors, vendors, friends, and volunteers who came together to support the protection of Charleston’s waterways. Check out our full list of supporters here:

We are looking forward to another successful year and cannot wait to see you at Water Ball 2013.

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.