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John Ramsburgh Named Chapter Director

By Bob Guild, Chapter Chair
After reviewing over 80 applications and interviewing more than a dozen candidates, the SC Chapter has selected John Ramsburgh our new Chapter Director. John lives in Columbia but maintains his family's farm in Darlington, and is active in both the Bachman and Pee Dee groups.

John comes to us from Conservation Voters of South Carolina where he directs climate and energy campaigns as grassroots organizer and legislative advocate. John will start fulltime on February 1.

In accepting the position John stated, "Having spent the last year working on conservation issues in South Carolina, I am excited to be joining the state's leading grassroots conservation organization. I feel deeply committed to protecting our state's natural resources and to improving the health and sustainability of our communities. I am proud to count myself a Sierra Club member and am committed to our mission and to the democratic principles that govern our organization."

John joins a strong professional Sierra Club team consisting of our administrative assistant, Mary Beth Bolt; our attorney, Jimmy Chandler and the staff of the SC Environmental Law Project; and our legislative director, Cary Chamblee.

While our funding requirements are modest, our ambitions for positive change are vast, and they cannot meet their potential without your financial support. I hope that you will take this opportunity to welcome John to our community with an additional contribution to the South Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club.

I am excited about the future of our Sierra Club Chapter and about all that we are doing to create a clean, healthy, sustainable future for our state and planet at this pivotal moment in our history. Thank you for your support of the Sierra Club and its mission, and please join me in welcoming John to this important and challenging position.

Citing Health Threats from Mercury Poisoning, Local Residents in Florence Oppose Santee Cooper Coal Plant

By John Ramsburgh,

In light of recent new reports on the human health risks posed by mercury emissions from coal plants, physicians, faith leaders, and concerned citizens from Florence County gathered to question DHEC's draft air permit of Santee Cooper's proposed coal plant on the Pee Dee River, and to oppose the plant's construction.

DHEC just approved a draft air permit for Santee Cooper to release 138 pounds of mercury into the air each year.Just one pound of methyl mercury is enough to contaminate 500,000 pounds of fish.DHEC currently lists the Pee Dee as an impaired waterway for mercury contamination, though it does not post public notices on any inland lakes or rivers.

Concerned citizens have long maintained that Santee Cooper has not adequately addressed the negative health impacts of their proposed plant.In addition to toxic mercury, the plant will emit 3,500 tons of ozone-forming nitrous oxide, 7,500 tons of soot-forming sulfur dioxide, and 900 tons of lung-damaging particulate matter.

Santee Cooper currently accounts for 46% of all the mercury coal plant emissions in South Carolina, and is the largest single mercury polluter in our state. Based on high mercury readings found in the Pee Dee region, the Post and Courier calls the area between Conway and Florence a "Mercury Triangle."This contaminated area happens to be exactly where Santee-Cooper wants to build its new coal plant.Yet most of the areas of high mercury contamination in this part of the Pee Dee -- and South Carolina as a whole-- include some of the poorest areas of the state.

Read the excellent investigative reports in the Post & Courier,
“ The Mercury Connection”  published on October 28 and
“Coal, Power and Poison” published on October 29.

Fish advisories are shown in red and pink on this DHEC map. The lowcountry is not exempt. Click on the map above or go to

S C Water Quality Not Improving

By Janet Wedlock,

Earl Meyer and Chris Christner live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains on Lake Keowee, which has very different physical characteristics than our coastal areas, but we have a common condition that is important in both of our areas and that is the necessity for clean water.

Earl and Chris traveled to the Lowcountry September 25 and 26 to talk about their decade long studies of water quality in South Carolina

The 1987 amendments to the Federal Clean Water Act make South Carolina responsible to “control and abate non-point source pollution”. Non-point source pollution is the kind that mostly comes from you and me rather than large industrial plants. The Bureau of Water within the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has been delegated this task with both statutory and regulatory authority.

Abate is an old fashioned word meaning reduce, decrease, make less. And yet, there were over 1200 polluted and “impaired” test sites in 2006.That figure has been increasing by 10% a year for the last 6 years. This sure didn’t seem like a decrease to Earl and Chris and they explained this to the DHEC Board of Directors in July. DHEC listened closely but we are still awaiting their promised response.

The full text of the presentation by Earl Meyer at the Coastal Discovery Museum, on Sept. 26, 2007 is on the Cathcart website. Click here to see it. The program was part of Estuaries of the Low Country Week.

Where Does the Tritium Come From?

By Joe Whetstone, Conservation Chair,

Have you ever wondered why tritium from the Savannah River Site (SRS) is still showing up in our drinking water even though you may have read that cleanup is the primary activity taking place at SRS today?

Perhaps a little background on two of the highly contaminated areas at SRS will provide some insight. The following information concerns the F and H Area Hazardous Waste Management Facilities and comes from two documents received in answer to an information request. The documents were received in December of 2006 and I apologize for taking so long to review them.

For 33 years 1.8 billion gallons of fluids containing dissolved metals and radionuclides, byproducts of processing uranium slugs and irradiated fuel, were released into three unlined, earthen seepage basins in F Area. During the 33 year operational life of H Area, 1.6 billion gallons of similar fluids were released into its four basins. The fluids were allowed to evaporate and seep into the underlying soil. Contaminated plumes in the water table resulted from dumping this hazardous waste into the seepage basins.

Contaminated groundwater plumes containing tritium levels that exceed 2,000,000 picocuries per liter are referred to as hot zones. (For some perspective note: The EPA maximum for tritium in drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter and the California Public Health Goal for tritium in drinking water is 400 picocuries per liter.)  The hot zone in F Area covers 95 acres and is up to 22 feet thick in some locations. Tritium levels in excess of 87,000,000 picocuries per liter have been reported from an H Area monitoring well.

To reduce the amount of tritium reaching Fourmile Branch and in turn the Savannah River, a barrier wall and base injection system has been installed. According to a recent e-mail from Sheron Smith, Federal Technical Coordinator for the Citizens Advisory Board, the remediation systems are working well.

The Department of Energy has asked the Department of Health and Environmental Control for more time in order to reduce the tritium seeping into Fourmile Branch. A public hearing is scheduled in Aiken July 16 at 3 p.m.


By Janet Wedlock, Editor

"We're going to have to solve the climate-change problem if we're going to have nuclear power, not the other way around." — David Lochbaum, nuclear engineer and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists

Nuclear power suddenly has a revived image, thanks to the idea that many more plants could be built without worsening global warming. Unlike power plants fired by coal and natural gas, nuclear fission produces no carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas. But there’s a catch: water.

Nuclear power plants require great amounts of cool water to keep reactors operating at safe temperatures. That is a problem if the rivers and reservoirs which many power plants rely on for water are hot or depleted because of steadily rising air temperatures or demand for drinking water.

Growth management risks associated with global climate change are important for water and energy specialists and planners to address. According to the National Academy of Sciences, among others, the predicted impacts of climate change include sea level rise, salt marsh deterioration, possibly more severe and long-lasting droughts, and likely decreases in summer river flows.

Consider the Savannah River which supplies drinking water to the Savannah Metro Area and Beaufort and Jasper Counties in S.C. The Savannah metro area is projected to increase 13% between 2000 and 2010. Beaufort County grew at an astounding 14% between 2000 and 2005 and Jasper County population is projected to almost double between 2007 and 2010!

At the same time the Savannah River supplies cooling water to Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Georgia. The plant uses mechanical draft cooling towers for cooling its two reactors, resulting in less water withdrawn than plants using “once-through cooling” but with a much greater volume of water consumed or lost. Only about one third of the water withdrawn by Plant Vogtle from the Savannah River was being returned.

Two proposed new reactors at Plant Vogtle could reduce water in the Savannah River even more. The proposed two new reactors will reportedly use a maximum withdrawal of about 83,208,960 gallons per day. Between 50-75% will be lost as steam. The remainder will be returned to the Savannah River at a warmer temperature. Sara Barczak with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy writes, “To put this into perspective, with average per capita daily water use in Georgia at 75 gallons from surface and ground water, more water will be lost as steam from the possible four reactors at Plant Vogtle than is used by all residents (2005 census) of Atlanta (470,688), Augusta (190,782) and Savannah (128,453) combined (Fanning 2003).”

France, which is often held up as a model for nuclear power, has 58 reactors - the majority on ecologically sensitive rivers like the Loire. Officials at Électricité de France have been preparing for a possible rerun of a ferocious heat wave that struck during 2003, the hottest summer on record in France, when temperatures of some rivers rose sharply and a number of reactors had to curtail output or shut down altogether.

During the extreme heat of 2003 in France, 17 nuclear reactors operated at reduced capacity or were turned off. Électricité de France was forced to buy power from neighboring countries on the open market, where demand drove the price of a megawatt hour ten times higher than the average price in France during summer months.

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