Change leading research directed by Dr. John Weinstein

Oyster Microplastic Research in a boat on the river

The chair of The Citadel Biology Department, John Weinstein, Ph.D., is leading change through ongoing, collaborative environmental toxicology research related to the impacts of degrading plastics and tires on waterways and marine life.

The research is conducted by undergraduate cadets and graduate students, in conjunction with funding Weinstein and the college have received from the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, National Science Foundation and other sources.

Several continuing projects are underway, with the most recent being a study into micropastics in sea life and how that may impact human health. This research is being conducted as part of the Center for Oceans and Human Health and Climate Change Interactions collaboration funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Addtionally, in 2018, Weinstein published a first of its kind study into what he describes as the biggest polluter: tire micro-particles that have washed off of bridges and roadways as long as vehicles using tires have existed. The natural Resources Defense Council and National Geographic are among the entities that published the results of this research.

Lab Exposed Shrimp with Plastic Beads

Some of Weinstein’s earlier work assessed the volume of plastic refuse in the Charleston coastal area. Another examined how tiny brine shrimp respond after ingesting microscopic beads of polypropylene, a type of plastic used in bottle caps and food containers.

One of the first comprehensive findings reports from the research proved that plastic refuse in the state’s coastal marshlands is breaking down into micro-particles much more rapidly than previously understood, and that the plastic spheres are commonly ingested by tiny grazing sea creatures, eventually killing them.

Cadet testing beverages for plastic particles
Cadet testing beverages for plastic particles

The work demonstrates that microscopic plastic particles can be just as hazardous to sea life as whole plastic bags and other larger debris, and that beach and marsh clean up sweeps are needed frequently to remove plastic waste as quickly after it enters the salt marsh environment as possible.

The research and some of the initial findings have been reported on by journalists in Charleston and in other U.S. cities. One of the articles in The Post and Courier said:

Researching plastic particles in a lab

“More than 7 tons of plastic are estimated to be breaking down to microplastics in the tide and waves of Charleston Harbor at any given time, according to a study led by Citadel physiology professor John Weinstein. Sooner or later, a portion of it gets eaten or swallowed and works its way up the food chain. The plastics carry toxins.” (The Post and Courier)

Related news reports and publications

Tires, the plastic polluter you never thought about
National Geographic

The Lowdown: Plastics Research
OHM Radio

Pondering Plastic – Wildlife, Bans and Trash
South Carolina Public Radio

Traces of plastic found in Columbia’s drinking water and rivers: researchers not surprised
The State

Diseases form the sea being studied by 3 South Carolina colleges.
The Post and Courier

Tires: An Emerging Threat to Our Waterways, Our Seafood, and Ourselves?
National Resources Defense Council

Car tires and brakes spew harmful microplastics
Science News for Students

Plastics: The Final Straw?
Gimlet Media

Plastic scraps from Charleston Harbor make for trashy art
The Post and Courier

New South Carolina water pollution research from The Citadel points to tires, eco-plastics.
The Post and Courier

The global plastic breakdown: how microplastics are shredding ocean health
Coastal Heritage newsletter

Awash in wastes; Study says tons of plastic in Charleston Harbor
The Post and Courier

Report finds tons of plastic in Charleston Harbor
Washington Times

Plastic bag ban on Isle of Palms has Council support, officials say
The Post and Courier

Trash in the water ends up in the drink; The Citadel studies how much
 The Post and Courier

The problems with plastics in S.C. waters 
The Times and Democrat, from The Post and Courier.

Study says tons of plastic in Charleston Harbor. The Post and Courier and 30+ other news outlets nationwide

Professor John Weinstein at microscope