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, 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. 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 is among the entities that published the results of this research in 2018.

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.

Another related research project includes investigating the possible presence of plastic microspheres in commonly consumed beverage liquids that are packaged in plastic bottles.

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)

Read more about the research being conducted by Weinstein and his students at the links below:

News reports and publications

Pondering Plastic – Wildlife, Bans and Trash, South Carolina Public Radio. The Citadel Today

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

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? NRDC.

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