CHARLESTON — The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium awarded $300,000 in competitive funding to support four research projects that examine the effects of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs)—including persistent “forever chemicals”—on water quality in the coastal Southeast U.S.

Three of the funded projects focus on chemicals known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These substances—used in the automotive, aerospace, electronics and construction industries—are difficult to break down and can enter water sources. PFAS have the potential to lead to harmful health outcomes in humans and wildlife, and research is ongoing to determine these specific impacts.

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A fourth project will investigate phthalates—substances added to plastics, personal care products, pesticides and cleaning solutions to increase durability—and the potential impacts on wild bottlenose dolphin health and ecosystems over a period of time.

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S.C. Sea Grant Consortium educator Elizabeth Vernon Bell is the recipient of the 2023 South Carolina Environmental Awareness Award. Bell received the award on Feb. 2, 2024, at a reception organized by the award’s 2023 hosting agency, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).

The funded projects will yield insights to better enable processes for maintaining human and ecosystem health.

“Our project team is excited to be able to fund this needed research on CECs in the coastal Southeast region,” said Brooke Saari, Coastal Environmental Quality Extension specialist at the Consortium. “We are looking forward to the results and outreach potential in the next year and a half.”

Partners on the grant include the University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and the National Sea Grant Law Center.

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The four independent research projects are:

• “Rising water tables and increasing river flooding changing the transport pattern and fate of PFAS in the lower Winyah watershed (WinyahFlu),” Till J.J. Hanebuth, Ph.D., professor at Coastal Carolina University;

• “Impact of drinking water treatment on the fate of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS) and precursors in wastewater reuse application,” Ching-Hua Huang, Ph.D., professor at Georgia Institute of Technology;

• “Develop a community-based participatory approach to evaluate the dietary exposure of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in an underrepresented community,” Xiaoyu Xu, Ph.D., assistant research scientist at University of Georgia; and

CHARLESTON – South Carolina State University President James E. Clark has been elected chair of the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium’s Board of Directors.

• “Climate factor influences, spatiotemporal variability, and bottlenose dolphin health related to phthalate exposure measured over 30 years in Sarasota Bay, Florida (1993-2023),” Leslie Hart, Ph.D., associate professor at College of Charleston.

This research represents a collaborative effort to address identified gaps in understanding CECs and their potential impact on human and environmental health.

The findings will inform policy decisions, facilitate mitigation strategies and contribute to the protection and preservation of coastal ecosystems in the Southeast U.S. Each project includes outreach initiatives prioritizing engagement with affected communities, local governments and natural resource managers.

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