February 2 is World Wetlands Day; SPOTLIGHT: Cathedral Bay Heritage Preserve

February 2 is World Wetlands Day, and it’s a great occasion to learn about South Carolina’s beautiful wetlands and their importance. DHEC works with other agencies, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), to help protect wetlands across our state. 

Wetlands are vegetated aquatic ecosystems that include areas such as Carolina bays, marshes, and swamps. There are approximately 4.1 million acres of wetlands in South Carolina, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  

Wetlands are also home to reptile and amphibian populations as well as rare plants. In addition to being a haven for wildlife, the watery environments provide safety and health benefits to communities in the state by reducing flooding as well as cleaning and replenishing water supplies. 

This year, the Environmental Affairs Team would like to highlight Cathedral Bay Heritage Preserve.Also known as Chitty Bay or Chitty Pond, it is almost a pure stand of Pond Cypress.


Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service (https://www.fws.gov/southeast/charleston/coastal-program/)

The trees have wide buttressed bases, an adaptation to saturated and flooded soils. Looking off into the distance from within the bay, these majestic trees appear closer together as they recede into the distance, bringing to mind the view one might have standing inside a towering cathedral among the columns supporting its roof and within its buttressed walls. 

Managed by the SCDNR through the Heritage Trust Program, this property in Bamberg County is a type of wetland known as a Carolina Bay. These wetlands get their name because the vast majority of these occur in North and South Carolina and due to their abundance of bay trees.   

Besides serving as a refuge for many rare plants and wildlife, Carolina Bays share distinctive features, including an elliptical or oval shape and parallel orientation with one another along a northwest to southeast axis. There has been much debate about the origin of these features over the years, but recent work suggests they are relict thermokarst lakes, which develop by thawing of frozen ground, with subsequent modification by wind and waves.   

Healthcare Quality’s Student Internship Program: 2021 Applications Open March 1

In Summer 2020, Healthcare Quality hosted two interns, Amaya Benson and Maya Bougebrayel, who were able to support, shadow and work with four bureaus and two offices within Healthcare Quality. The interns gained invaluable experiences in many different areas throughout the six weeks of the program as Healthcare Quality continued to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and a new hurricane season. As Healthcare Quality makes way for its upcoming 2021 student internship program with applications being accepted starting March 1, 2021, we asked our two recent interns to describe their time spent with DHEC and what the internship program meant to them.

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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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