Charleston Waterkeeper deems 9 areas unsafe for swimming due to high bacteria levels

Published: Jul. 22, 2022 at 10:52 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 23, 2022 at 5:17 AM EDT
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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Charleston Waterkeeper says almost half of their testing sites in area waterways are not safe for swimming following recent storms and flooding throughout the Lowcountry.

After a week of heavy rain and flooding, Charleston Waterkeeper Andrew Wunderley said nine of their testing sites have tested above state limits for bacteria levels, including Filbin Creek in North Charleston, which tested nine times above the state standard.

“What we’re talking about with high bacteria levels are your risk of exposure to pathogens that can get you sick,” Wunderley said.

The organization released its weekly testing data Friday morning and said the results were striking.

Along with Filbin Creek, all of Shem Creek and Brittlebank Park all showed high bacteria levels, such as tuberculosis, cholera and staph.

Wunderley said the recent storms helped these levels rise to some of the highest they have been this summer.

“All of our stormwater and our floodwater drains away into a creek like Shem Creek or just like Filbin Creek,” he said. “Everything that’s on the ground goes along with it, so dog waste, wildlife waste, leaking septic tanks, overflowing sewers.”

Mount Pleasant resident Cory Sieburg said he will not be going into the water this weekend because of the bacteria levels. He pointed out a childhood incident that made him aware of water pollution levels.

“We moved from Chicago a few months ago, and Lake Michigan is kind of a dump, so a lot of the sewage is in there,” Sieburg recalled. “As a kid, I would go swimming in the water not knowing about any sort of high bacteria, and then, when I get home, I start throwing up, and it wasn’t a good time.”

Wunderley recommends people avoid these creeks and rivers for two days following a rainstorm. If they do go, he said to wash up and keep the water out of their mouth, nose and eyes.

“We see a real strong relationship between rainfall and tide stage and water quality,” Wunderley said, “and so outgoing tide, a lot of rain, that’s a recipe for very high pollution, very high bacteria in your creeks and rivers.”

Charleston Waterkeeper has put out a map of the areas deemed unsafe for swimming.

Wunderley also said people can help control bacteria levels by picking up their dog’s waste and regularly inspecting their septic tanks.

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