Press Release | December 17, 2019

Expert: Charleston nurdle pollution “disturbing”

CHARLESTON, SC — A national expert on plastic pellet pollution says the concentration of so-called “nurdles” found in the area around the city’s harbor is among the worst he’s seen since he started building a national database last year.

Jace Tunnell, a University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute researcher who enlists citizens to document pellet pollution and publishes a national map detailing the industrial litter, said the density of nurdles found on the beaches and in the marshes of the Cooper River and Charleston Harbor is surprisingly high. The only region where he’s found a higher concentration of pellet pollution is along the Texas coast, an area brimming with plastics factories.

“The number of nurdles we’re finding is disturbing,” said Tunnell, who recently visited the region and collected pellets from local beaches. “There is an obvious nurdle pollution problem in the Charleston area.”

The data he collected, combined with previous pellet counts from Charleston Waterkeeper Andrew Wunderley, was uploaded to Tunnell’s website,

Wunderley has found thousands of those pellets on Sullivan’s Island, where he is scheduled to give the Town Council an update on the pollution tonight during the council’s 6 p.m. public meeting.

In October, the Charleston Waterkeeper and the Coastal Conservation League, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, sent a 60-day notice for Clean Water Act violations to Frontier Logistics, a company that state officials say was responsible for a July pellet spill into the Cooper River. Wunderley, however, said his research shows the pellet pollution of Charleston-area waters is ongoing and not the result of a single spill.

The conservation groups have sent a second 60-day notice to Frontier, adding a pollution claim under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA. Both claims allow Frontier to avoid a federal lawsuit by stopping and cleaning up the pollution. However, even though the highest density of pellet pollution has been found in locations nearest the Frontier facility, Frontier says it is not responsible.

“What is surprising to me is that we’re still finding so many nurdles now six months after the July spill,” Wunderley said “We’re sampling several times a week, and we’re still finding fresh nurdle deposits just about everywhere we look. It’s really concerning.”

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