DHEC monitors Grand Strand waters for oil

Myrtle Beach, SC - By Jennifer Grove - bio | email

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - While environmentalists say oil in the Gulf is still months away from reaching South Carolina's coast, if it ever does, some state agencies are not taking any chances.

"DHEC decided to be proactive and get some baseline samples to see what was out there," said Sean Torrens, environmental health manager for the Department of Health and Environmental Control. "[We're] basically looking for oil and references to oil in the water."

Torrens says they took 10 samples up and own the South Carolina coast, including one in Myrtle Beach and one in the Windy Hill area.

"Everything came back at pretty much next to zero," Torrens said. "It was as low as you could read."

At Coastal Carolina's Center for Marine and Wetland Studies, they say they are watching the spill closely.

"Finding oil in water is not always that unusual," Director Paul Gayes said. "Boats go by, there's other kinds of things that may put oil in it. A baseline is important to give you some kind of sense of what conditions normally are."

He says there are still a number of unknowns in terms of if and when the oil will make its way to Grand Strand waters.

"It's not like it's going to come down Interstate 40," he said. "It's basically going to come down the ocean pathway and the ocean pathway is a large scale global circulation."

Gayes says it would take the oil getting into the Gulf Stream to bring it to South Carolina's coast, adding that the Gulf Stream is well off the Palmetto State's coast, 60-80 miles offshore. Areas like the tip of Florida and Cape Hatteras are not so removed.

If the oil does begin to come ashore, Torrens says there is already a plan being put in place to respond.

"U.S. Coast Guard is going to be the primary responders for that," Torrens explained. "We will be working with them. They become the primary agency and then they'll be the directive to give us what we need to do to, our marching papers."

While the focus is currently on clean up, Gayes says scientists will be able to use the disaster to better predict current systems and oil/water interactions in the future.

"Any time you have any physical tracer like that that explains where things actually went, you can always go back and make your modeling better," he said. "You've probably heard the discussions about how little is known about the ocean. It's hard to work down there. It's not a place where you can easily get lots of measurements."

Gayes says the information learned from this type of event will provide critical knowledge for scientists dealing with future events.

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