In the 1870s deposits of phosphate were discovered Charleston’s river beds and underground. Economically pressed planters sold or rented land to the growing number of mining and fertilizer production companies. Riverbank sites were more popular than inland sites because of the ease of excavation and transport.
By the end of the 1800s more than two dozen companies, most located along the Ashley River, produced one-half of the world’s phosphates. The mining industry began to decline after the earthquake of 1886 damaged and new phosphate sources were located outside South Carolina. The mining industry was gone by 1938.
Although the mines and fertilizer plants along the Ashley River are gone the pollutants they generated are still present. Today, at some sites, old ditches can carry acidic water, lead, and arsenic into the Ashley River. Some former phosphate fertilizer plant sites along the Ashley River have been recognized by the US EPA as “Superfund” sites. Clean up and monitoring activities continue to this day. Learn more about human impacts and legacy pollutants in our watershed.