Environmental experts concerned after plastic pellets wash up on Sullivan’s Island

Updated: Jul. 19, 2019 at 9:53 PM EDT
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SULLIVAN’S ISLAND, SC (WCSC) - Hundreds of small almost clear-like plastic pellets are washing up on Sullivan’s Island.

The pellets are called nurdles and they are the raw material used to make almost all commercial plastic items.

David Creech was walking along the beach near Fort Moultrie on Friday when he found the pellets on the ground. He sent the photos to Charleston Waterkeeper, which is a local organization that tracks water quality.

“I understand that people make mistakes, but we need to keep plastic out of our waterways," Creech said,

According to officials with Charleston Waterkeeper, there are a handful of companies that transport the pellets in and out of Charleston.

The plastic material is put into bags and then transported by train or by ship.

Andrew Wunderley is with Charleston Waterkeeper and said when transloading the nurdles, the pellets can spill onto the ground or into the water.

That’s how the actual pollution discharge is likely happening.

"All these communities have taken a strong stance against plastic pollution and taking on the burden of that on a local level,” said Wunderley. “To have companies here that are operating in a way that’s disrespectful to that or to the creeks and rivers and beaches that make our communities so special is wrong.”

Sullivan’s Island has an ordinance in place that prohibits plastic and Styrofoam items on the beach. Town officials say that there may not be much they can do about the pellets if they are washing up from the ocean.

Jason Blanton, the deputy administrator for Sullivan’s Island, says he has worked in the town for 12 years and this is the first time he has heard of these plastic pellets.

“It’s not even something that’s not easy to see, much less to clean up,” said Blanton. “It’s not like a plastic bottle on the beach or a Styrofoam cup. It’s mixed in with debris that washes up from the ocean.”

In their Facebook post Charleston Waterkeeper wrote, “We also wanted to remind everyone to report spills to the U.S. Coast Guard National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802, SC DHEC Division of Emergency response at 1-888-481-0125, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at 1-800-922-5431. “

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