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Toxic chemicals are a significant “stressor” for our fresh and estuarine waterways. Types of pollutants include: (1) organic chemicals like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and pesticides like DDT; (2) heavy metals like lead and mercury; and (3) “emerging contaminants” like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and perflourinated chemicals (PFCs) that have not traditionally been monitored or regulated. Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) are also sources of pollutants. Such contaminants are being found worldwide in aquatic environments, including the rivers and estuarine waters of the Ashley/Cooper River Basin.

Key local organisms can help us to understand what potential health and environmental risks these pollutants pose and whether the risks are increasing or decreasing over time.  These organisms are called “sentinel species“.  The results of these sentinel studies (Dolphins, Loggerhead Sea Turtles, Bivalves, Bald Eagles, Diamondback Terrapins) indicate that the toxic chemicals that enter the Ashley/Cooper River Basin and move downstream to Charleston Harbor are finding their way via the food chain into both wildlife and humans, some at concentrations that are health-threatening. Learn more about toxic pollutants in our waterways.