Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016SC104B

Monitoring of Organic Pollutants in the Savannah, Edisto and Ogeechee Rivers, using Passive Samplers in Combination with a Real-Time Water Quality Data Collection Network

Institute: South Carolina
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-05-01 End Date: 2017-04-30
Total Federal Funds: $30,038 Total Non-Federal Funds: $64,836

Principal Investigators: Peter Van Den Hurk, Oscar Flite

Abstract: The Savannah, Edisto and Ogeechee Rivers form adjacent river basins in the mid-Atlantic coastal region of South Carolina and Georgia. The rivers are an essential natural resource to the counties and states bordering these rivers. Because of the many different services provided by these rivers, they require a balanced management of river flow and water quality. As one of the tools to aid management of the rivers, the Phinizy Center for Water Sciences operates a series of real-time water quality monitors throughout much of the length of the Savannah River below Thurmond Dam, along most of the length of the Ogeechee River, and at one location in the Edisto River Basin. Each site has a water quality data collection unit, which is wirelessly connected to a central computer system. This allows for real-time water quality data collection and monitoring, which is a significant asset to all water users and managers within those river basins. Unfortunately, current technology allows only for reliable monitoring of basic water quality parameters like temperature, conductivity, pH, and dissolved oxygen. Considering the challenges of protecting the water supply and riverine ecosystems, these general monitoring parameters do nothing to address the impacts of emerging and legacy point and nonpoint source pollutants, especially complex organic compounds like pharmaceuticals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). An array of real-time sensors, connected to the existing data collectors already in place within these river basins could provide very valuable protection tool for water quality managers and all water users. Unfortunately, small size, stand-alone detectors specifically for anthropogenic chemical pollutants are not available yet. The technology is rapidly developing, and small, portable units for detection of organic pollutants are becoming available. These units use a variety of techniques, mostly based on microfluidics systems, to separate and detect pollutants of interest. However, it is expected that the availability of stand-alone, remotely operated detectors that could be deployed from real-time water quality sondes will take another 5-10 years. Because three groups of environmental toxicants, PAHs, PCBs and pharmaceuticals are consistently showing up as problem pollutants in biomarker studies in the rivers of the Upstate of SC, and most recently also in the Savannah River, it appears that monitoring of these pollutants is of crucial importance for water quality managers in these river basins. To fill the time void until stand-alone detectors are available, we propose to install “passive samplers” on the current river monitoring platforms. These passive samplers consist of materials that absorb pollutants from the water column over time, after which they are extracted in a laboratory and measured with standard analytical techniques . Because the data collection units at each site have to be inspected and cleaned on a monthly basis, this would be a perfect interval to exchange the passive samplers as well. The information on the chemical concentrations can be processed on a short time frame, and be added to the real-time water quality data collected by the sondes, and thus be made available to a wider audience. Passive samplers have been used for over a decade, and US-EPA and USGS have deemed their use appropriate for monitoring selected classes of pollutants. For PAHs and PCBs the collection material consists of low-density polyethylene (LDPE); pharmaceuticals, pesticides and antimicrobial compounds can be collected in POCIS disks, a patented device for collecting polar organic chemicals from the water column. The important benefit of using passive samplers is the time-integrated picture that is obtained of the freely dissolved fractions of the chemicals in the water column. This is in contrast to one-time grab samples, which give only a very temporary picture of the concentrations of pollutants. In addition, the extracts can be tested in different toxicity tests to identify other pollutants that are not routinely analyzed in water samples. The Savannah River Basin is one of South Carolina and Georgia’s largest basins. As such, it has become a significant driver for economic development. With that development comes the potential increase of anthropogenic stressors due to urbanization and industrialization on that natural resource. However, the two adjacent river basins, the Edisto River to the east and the Ogeechee River to the west, have had much less urban growth. In fact, the Edisto River is thought to be one of the few remaining pristine blackwater rivers remaining in the country. While nonpoint source pollution from agricultural sources is generally considered to be a significant problem in itself, the decreased urbanization may allow the two adjacent basins to serve as important reference sites in comparison to the Savannah River. We propose to use sites within those basins that Phinizy Center has ongoing continuous monitoring to deploy passive samplers. The proposed project will give insight into the monthly variations of the chemicals of interest, and will provide valuable information that can be used in preparation for the application of future stand-alone real-time data collection units. The collected data will also be beneficial to support biological effect data that were collected in recent years in the Savannah River. Broadening the spectrum of parameters that will be measured to include the presence of environmental pollutants in three adjacent river basins will draw more attention to the ecological health of each of these rivers, will provide significant insight for land use implications, and will increase the value of ongoing biological monitoring programs in each of these basins. Finally, several graduate, undergraduate and high school students can be attracted to participate in the project, which will enhance the outreach potential of the project.