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Frequently Asked Questions

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Why is DHEC considering changing its bacteria standards?

Changes in science and technology now enable us to consider using other indicators to ensure that we are suitably protecting the citizens of South Carolina.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is recommending that states use either Escherichia coli (E.coli) or Enterococcus as pathogen indicators of gastroenteritis for protection of human health when swimming.

If EPA has already developed standards for E. coli and Enterococcus, why is DHEC conducting this study?

DHEC is evaluating which of the pathogen indicator species would work best for S.C. waters and to further determine what number should be selected to protect recreational uses.

Will DHEC conduct its own epidemiological studies?

No. EPA requirements on conducting new epidemiological studies are extensive, and the monetary cost of these types of studies is extremely high.  DHEC’s decision is to rely on the existing EPA studies, as other States have also done in making indicator changes.

How were the monitoring sites chosen for this study?

Monitoring sites were chosen to represent a spectrum of freshwater types, sizes, conditions and geographic locations. Availability of resources and logistics also played a role in selection of monitoring sites.

Where can I find the locations of the monitoring sites for this study?

A map with the locations of the monitoring sites for this study can be found here.

What data is being gathered at the sampling locations?

The following data is being collected on a weekly basis at all sampling locations:

  • The 3 bacterial indicators (fecal coliform bacteria, E. coli and Enterococcus)
  • Rainfall information from the 24 and 48 hours prior to sampling
  • Time and date of collection

What is the current standard for fecal coliform bacteria?

The current South Carolina standard (pg. 29) for fecal coliform bacteria for freshwater is “not to exceed a geometric mean of 200/100 ml, based on five consecutive samples during any 30 day period; nor shall more than 10% of the total samples during any 30 day period exceed 400/100 ml.”

Are other states using pathogen indicators besides fecal coliform?

Yes. Some states have adopted E. coli for fresh water. Since E. coli does not work as an indicator in salt waters, those states with coastal salt waters have been required to use Enterococcus for those waters.

Why is gastroenteritis the only illness being considered?

Gastroenteritis was the only illness that consistently correlated with bacteria concentrations during the EPA’s 1986 epidemiological studies. All of the EPA accepted pathogen indicator criteria (fecal coliform bacteria, Enterococcus and E. coli) are based on the occurrence of gastroenteritis associated with full body contact activities (primary or secondary contact recreation).

Doesn’t DHEC already test for Enterococcus?

DHEC uses Enterococcus as a pathogen indicator for coastal salt waters. More information about DHEC’s beach monitoring program can be found at www.scdhec.gov/environment/water/beachmon.htm.

Will there be a formal comment period?

Yes. The S.C. Administrative Procedures Act requires that DHEC go through a formal process for State regulation promulgation that includes approval by the DHEC Board and ultimately, approval by the S.C. General Assembly.  This formal process has several opportunities for the public to provide input and comment.  We will keep the public informed of the process and its status through this website.

Please note that water classifications and standards are evaluated every three years. The stakeholder process for the Triennial Review is separate from this study.   If the study results in our decision to move forward with a change in the water quality standards, it is through this separate formal process that we will make those changes.  For more information about the Triennial Review process and how to get involved, visit: www.scdhec.gov/environment/water/wqstri.htm

How will public input be incorporated?

As with all amendments to the State water quality standards regulation, public input is essential and necessary.  DHEC will advertise for and receive comments on several occasions throughout the amendment process.  During this lengthy promulgation period, DHEC will convene stakeholder meetings to receive additional public input.  All written comments received are reviewed and those pertinent to the issue are considered as we prepare language for the amended regulation. By the end of the process, DHEC will provide all those who commented with a written response to address their comments and concerns and explain the final decision presented to our Board.

Again, we ask you to please note that water classifications and standards revisions are separate from this study.  For more information about the Triennial Review process and how to get involved, visit: www.scdhec.gov/environment/water/wqstri.htm

How can I stay informed?

To receive periodic updates, send your contact information to bacteria@dhec.sc.gov. You can also share your views with us and sign up for our e-mail list here.