August 1, 2014

Destructive bat disease spreading in SC

An infected bat (Image: DNR)

An infected bat (Image: DNR)

A disease that has killed over 6 million bats nationwide was discovered in the Upstate mountains of South Carolina for the first time last year. Now, South Carolina wildlife officials say it has spread to the Midlands.

The state Department of Natural Resources said Monday that white-nose syndrome has been discovered in a bat for the first time in Richland County this spring.

“We don’t know if that was a bat that migrated down or if it’s a bat that was overwintering in Richland County,” the agency’s bat coordinator Mary Bunch told South Carolina Radio Network.  The syndrome is caused by a white fungus that grows on bats while they are hibernating. Because the bats’ immune system largely shuts down during hibernation, the disease can ravage colonies in the winter months. It spreads by microscopic spores that stick in the bats’ fur.

In 2012, the Fish and Wildlife Service said the disease had been detected in 16 states. Just two years later it has now infected bats in at least 25 states, according to DNR.

“It’s terrible news,” Bunch said. “We’re talking over 90 percent mortality in the Northeast in some species. At some sites, it’s 98 percent mortality. That’s catastrophic.”

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Nearly 50,000 dead fish wash up on Georgetown beaches

South Carolina wildlife officials are saying there was nothing unnatural about a major fish kill along the state’s coast last week. DNR biologists say nearly 50,000 dead Menhaden fish were found washed up along the shore for over a mile and half from DeBordieu Beach in Georgetown County to Pawleys Island earlier this week.

Dead Menhaden fish in North Inlet. The picture was taken by the Seven Seas Seafood Market (Image: Facebook)

Dead Menhaden fish in North Inlet. The picture was taken by the Seven Seas Seafood Market (Image: Facebook)

The story grabbed statewide attention after the Seven Seas Seafood Market posted a picture of the thousands of dead fish on their Facebook page.

State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Marine Biologist Dean Cain says scientists from the University of South Carolina took water samples and visited the area last Tuesday. They determined the fish had died from hypoxia, which occurs when the amount of oxygen in the water drops.

“The dissolved oxygen was depleted from the water and the Menhaden, who need a fairly high content of oxygen to survive, pretty quickly succumb to it,” Cain said.

Although some residents in the area are concerned by all the dead fish, Cain says they pose no environmental risk, noting an occurrence like this is not that rare.

“It doesn’t pose a threat as far as human threat at all,” Cain said. “It’s acutally a naturally occurring situation that occurs up and down the United States at certain different times of year.”

Cain believes the dead fish will be gone within the week. He says the small silver Menhaden will likely decompose on the beach, in the ocean, or become a meal for a hungry seagull.

South Carolina Radio Network’s Patrick Ingraham filed this report.

Company agrees to pay for contamination cleanup at former Spartanburg plant site

Former IMC fertilizer plant site (EPA)

Former IMC fertilizer plant site (EPA)

A chemical corporation has agreed to pay $2 million to clean up the site of an old fertilizer plant in Spartanburg.

The Herald-Journal of Spartanburg reported the details were discussed in a hearing Thursday. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is reviewing the project that is underway to neutralize highly acidic metals found in the soil at the old International Mineral and Chemical (IMC) fertilizer plant.

The plant closed in 1987, but potentially harmful levels of arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead, and other metals were found in the soil. Tons of contaminated material were removed from the site in 2011. Officials said nearly 2,900 tons of limestone are being used to neutralize acid levels in the soil.

EPA Project manager Giezelle Bennett says residents in the area get water from the city of Spartanburg rather than wells, so the groundwater situation is not considered to be a safety issue.

Illinois-based IMC will pay the estimated $2 million needed to further clean the site. The newspaper reports the EPA and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control have proposed using a series of 8-10 foot trenches with pipes containing sodium carbonate to help neutralize the soil and groundwater.

The EPA estimates it will take 15 years for the soil to be completely neutralized.

SC beaches ranked among worst nationally for water quality

Myrtle BeachA new report ranks South Carolina near the bottom nationally for beach water quality.

But data from the Natural Resource Defense Council report released Wednesday suggests that relatively high rates of harmful bacteria in the Myrtle Beach area are dragging down the state’s overall score.

The annual NRDC report examines all water quality samples collected nationwide last year to check levels of potentially harmful bacteria that stem from pollution and sewage. South Carolina was ranked 7th-worst among the 30 coastal or Great Lake states. The report relied on a new tougher benchmark (known as “Beach Action Value”) than what the Environmental Protection Agency has historically used to determine if the water quality is safe for swimmers.

The report said 15 percent of the water quality samples collected by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) last summer exceeded the Beach Action Value of 60 colony farming units per 100mL of water. Nationally, 10 percent of the water quality samples taken at the nation’s beaches exceeded that level.

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Study says recycling boosts SC economy by $13 billion

There’s money to be made in trash.

The economic impact of recycling in South Carolina has doubled over the past eight years, and is now adding $13 billion according to a study released Tuesday.

College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner surveyed 524 companies throughout the state that collect and recycle in-house or for clients, or are end-users of recycled products.  Hefner applied IMPLAN modeling, a standard economic measure.

Hefner’s study did not look at municipal and public recycling.

Compared to the 2005 data, the industry has matured, said Hefner. Recycling ventures had big plans and major expansion before the Great Recession. This time, the investment plans are more conservative

“We had a spurt of capital investment and we had some good growth. So now the question is will it continue? Most of the firms are optimistic in terms of their expansion plans, but the size of the expansion will be smaller,” Hefner told South Carolina Radio Network.

Now the industry relies on more high tech operations, which skews the average income higher to about $40,000.

The South Carolina Department of Commerce, Department of Health and Environmental Control, New Carolina and RecyclonomicsSC sponsored the study, but Helfner worked independently in analyzing the numbers from the companies themselves.

The 2014 report found the following improvements:

  • $13 billion in total economic impact – double the impact of $6.5 billion in 2006
  • 54,121 jobs, up 44 percent from 37,440 impacted jobs eight years ago
  • $2.7 billion in labor income, up 80 percent from the 2006 report
  • $329 million in state and local taxes


The College of Charleston economist predicts numbers like this will draw more companies to the state:

“It sends a strong signal,” Heffner said. “Going green is not just something that a lot a firms talk about, they actually want to do. The fact that we are engaged and they can see that it’s possible to do, it’s just one more aspect of that portfolio that we use to sell South Carolina.”