Savannah River Site: A Brief History and 2019 ESOP Report

Aerial View of the Saltstone Tanks at the Savannah River Site

Are you familiar with the Savannah River Site?  Many South Carolinians aren’t, but if you are from Aiken or Barnwell County, you may have in one way or another been associated with the site whether it be through a long line of family history or as a source of income. 

The Savannah River Site (SRS), a 310 square mile area located 20 miles south of Aiken was a large producer of nuclear weapon materials during the Cold War. Due to nuclear material testing and lack of environmental regulation during the Cold War era, the SRS property has been contaminated with radioactive material. Today, its focus is on environmental remediation. 

Before and after photos of R Reactor at SRS as the focus of the site shifted from production to remediation

SRS scientists have sampled the air, water, soil, and wildlife for many years. However, to have a verification system for SRS’s annual data, the Department of Energy- Savannah River partnered with DHEC to create the Environmental Surveillance and Oversight Program (ESOP). ESOP is a division of DHEC specific to its Midlands Aiken Environmental Affairs Office. Since 1995, DHEC’s ESOP team has conducted independent, non-regulatory monitoring of SRS. 

Members of the ESOP team work to collect and analyze samples of air, water, soil, sediment, vegetation, milk, fish, and game. DHEC scientists take samples at the site, around its perimeter, and in background locations. Depending on the environmental media type, availability, and weather, samples are gathered weekly, quarterly, biannually, and/or annually.  DHEC tests the material collected for alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, as well as for non-radiological chemicals. Most of the testing is performed at the State Park lab in Columbia, but some samples are analyzed in the Aiken Office laboratory.

DHEC scientist collecting water samples on the Savannah River

Each year, DHEC publishes an annual report that highlights the previous year’s sampling results of the Savannah River Site. The report’s findings are made available online and are presented to the public through SRS’s Citizens Advisory Board meetings and at local schools, organizations, and events. Recently, DHEC released the 2019 ESOP Data Report and 2019 Raw Data Excel File on its website:  https://scdhec.gov/environment/pollution-types-advisories-monitoring/pollution-monitoring-services-advisories/monitoring-8. The publication provides the data collected by DHEC, displays historical trends, and compares DHEC and DOE-SR data for overlapping sample locations.

For inquiries about the report, data, and outreach opportunities, please reach out to Grace Anne Martin at martinga@dhec.sc.gov.

Pictures Citations:

Savannah River Site. (August 29, 2012). Saltstone Type 2 Tanks [Photograph]. Savannah River Site.  https://www.flickr.com/photos/51009184@N06/8057139609/in/album-72157631519292000/ Savannah River Site. (November 24, 2010). SRS at 60 – R Reactor [Photograph]. Savannah River Site. https://www.flickr.com/photos/51009184@N06/5228298108/in/album-72157631519358714/

See It, Report It Campaign Celebrates First Anniversary

More than 100 piles comprising an estimated 40,000 waste tires have been reported by residents since the debut of the statewide initiative to stop this type of illegal dumping.     

In December 2019, DHEC kicked off the “See It, Report It” campaign in partnership with PalmettoPride and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The campaign is aimed at eliminating unpermitted tire stockpiles – which can pose both public health and environmental risks.  

“The campaign gives residents the opportunity to help take care of their communities, and they have responded,” said Juli Blalock, assistant chief of the Bureau of Land and Waste Management. “We often find out about tire piles before they have a chance to grow reducing the health and environmental risks as well as the time and expense in the removal of the pile.” 

Most waste tires are properly processed by permitted facilities and are recycled into substitute aggregates, rubberized playground surfaces, landscaping mulch, truck bed mats and other products. Despite the resources available for the proper management of waste tires, illegal dump sites still occur.  

S.C. Residents are encouraged to quickly and anonymously report tire dumps by calling the Litter Buster Hotline at 1-877-7 LITTER or using the “Report a Litterbug” option at www.palmettopride.org

Reported complaints are managed by city or county solid waste departments, by litter control officers, by DHEC or by DNR, depending on the size, location and nature of the pile. Fines for first-time offenses may be as high as $10,000 per day for each violation. Residents should never knowingly let someone dump tires on their property, as landowners could be fined and held liable for associated cleanup costs.    

For more information about waste tires in South Carolina, visit www.scdhec.gov/tiresor call DHEC’s Office of Solid Waste Reduction and Recycling at 1-800-768-7348. 

DHEC recognizes National Home Care, Hospice and Palliative Care Month

Join DHEC in observing Home Care, Hospice, and Palliative Care Month. This month-long celebration provides an opportunity to show appreciation for the thousands of SC nurses, home care aides, therapists and social workers who have dedicated their lives to improving the health of the patients and families they serve.

To honor this observance, we spoke with Courtney Hodges, Vice President of Marketing, Communications & Events for the South Carolina Home Care & Hospice Association (SCHCHA). DHEC has worked with SCHCHA throughout the years and is proud to call the association a community partner.

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Midlands Community Health Workers have reached vulnerable populations during the COVID-19 response

Early in the COVID-19 response, the Midlands Region recognized the need to get messaging out to sometimes hard-to-reach, vulnerable populations such as the elderly, Hispanic, migrant camps, homeless, African-American and Native American. In order to better serve this need, the first Community Health Workers (CHW) came on board in May.   

A CHW is someone who has an intimate knowledge of the community and its people as well as a trusted member of that community.   

“Not only do I engulf myself into my community, but I also can make a positive impact for people,” Layla Zarif said. “I love that my job lets me spend more time in a county that I am so in love with.”   

That relationship allows the CHW to reach those who may not be reached in other ways and to become a liaison between these populations and community resources, including DHEC and other health agencies.   

“I love being a CHW because I enjoy helping people, relationship building, community collaboration and helping to connect people with resources and access to care,” Hazel Lowman said.  

While the CHW’s were hired for COVID response, they are quickly becoming an integral part of the outreach efforts in the Midlands.

They are promoting testing sites and sharing COVID-19 materials and information with businesses, organizations and individuals. They are also participating in community events and developing relationships at an individual level.   

To better help them build the trust that is essential to their jobs, they also share other important information in addition to COVID. They have been involved with food box giveaways, promoting the Census, assisting with WIC and medical appointments and many others. 

From their interactions, the region has learned of additional languages that materials should be translated into and how to integrate services into specific populations or neighborhoods, to name a few.   

“I became a CHW when I saw that our communities, states, country and entire world was in desperate need of trustworthy education and guidance to take control of health advocacy in the midst of a pandemic,” Katherine Brown said. “Now I can see that even without a pandemic our communities need passionate CHWs who are here for the people to help guide individuals and families to a healthier life.”   

Taylor Houser sees herself as part of a team addressing the needs of the communities that she serves.    

“Being a Community Health Worker allows me to play my part in bettering the lives of those around me and better myself through continuous education and exposure to new ideas and information,” she said. 

The CHW’s in the Midlands have become an important part of the Community Systems Team, collaborating with the core team and the outreach team on a seamless approach to this work.  Each part of the team has its own role, but all work together toward an overall goal of reaching the greatest number of people. 

CHW’s enter the field for many reasons, but the overarching quality is a strong desire to serve others.   

“Simply put, there is more happiness in giving than in receiving and showing compassion to the least of these my brothers as a Good Samaritan provides riches that money cannot buy,” Bruce Wright said.   

National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and National Memory Screening Month

November is National Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and National Memory Screening Month.

There are currently over 95,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias (ADRD) in South Carolina. According to the SC Alzheimer’s Disease Registry, 25% of the ADRD population in the state resides in a long-term care facility including nursing homes and assisted living facilities. DHEC regulates 207 facilities that offer memory care  services.

As we close in on the end of 2020, it’s difficult to reflect on the year and not think of the effect COVID-19 has had on our loved ones in long term care facilities (LTCFs). Residents and patients experiencing ADRD are highly susceptible to mental anguish and confusion due to the necessary changes being made at facilities for infection control and prevention. Changes to routines, use of unfamiliar personal protective equipment (PPE), and disruption to daily schedules can lead to fear and anxiety resulting in increased depression and worsening behavioral changes, such as agitation, aggression, and wandering.

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