CHARLESTON, S.C. (March 1, 2023) – The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, University of Georgia (UGA) Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and the National Sea Grant Law Center are collaborators on a $411,148 grant to create a competitive research program in the Southeast focused on the influence of climate change on contaminants of emerging concern (CEC). CECs, such as pharmaceuticals, cleaning products and microfibers, are increasingly detected in drinking and surface waters, including streams, rivers, estuaries and oceans, posing health risks to humans and wildlife. The three-year project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Sea Grant College Program, will support the development of a research network that improves understanding of both documented and undocumented CECs and enhances stakeholder outreach to communities in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. “An important feature of this project is that it includes research on the synergistic effects of our changing climate and little understood contaminants. Improving our understanding of these impacts will aid public- and environmental-health decision makers to protect the health of coastal resources and people,” said Susan Lovelace, Ph.D., executive director of the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium.
While planning water quality-focused programs in the Southeast, lead principal investigator Brooke Saari found it difficult to find experts on topics related to contaminants of emerging concern. “We recognize the need for an expanded and better-connected network of professionals to learn about existing stakeholder efforts and add to the body of knowledge about the presence and impacts of CECs,” said Saari, Coastal Environmental Quality program specialist with the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. To build this network, Saari and the project team will start by working with a graduate student to conduct an analysis of existing research, publications and monitoring efforts by organizations and individuals in the region that focus on environmental contaminants. In addition, the National Sea Grant Law Center will gather information on state regulations and policies that are informing the management of these contaminants. Results from these analyses will be compiled in a database and used to inform future research and outreach materials. An advisory committee of community leaders with diverse perspectives will be assembled to guide the development of priority needs for a competitive request for proposals to be released in year two of the project. The team will prioritize projects that engage student researchers, extension professionals and state agency partners in evaluating CEC presence, public perceptions and behaviors, stressors, interventions and mitigation.
“As extension professionals, we are excited to serve as facilitators by bringing together experts, researchers and students to better understand the presence and potential impacts of contaminants of emerging concern across the Southeast,” said Katy Smith, Water Resources specialist with UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant and a collaborator on the project. “We look forward to supporting projects to help answer priority questions and sharing information with individuals who can apply these discoveries to their work.”
For assistance with education and outreach activities in the final year, a Community Engaged intern will be hired in each state to support community stakeholders identified by the advisory committee, including those who represent historically marginalized or underrepresented communities, by sharing resources that feature key findings from funded projects. In addition, results from selected projects will be shared through research symposia and conferences, developed into outreach materials and other deliverables and extended beyond the Southeast region through virtual public engagement.