River Worker Worried About Environmental Hazards - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

04/04/06

River Worker Worried About Environmental Hazards

McClendon's hands are red, marked and swollen. McClendon's hands are red, marked and swollen.

Thousands of tourists walk by or travel on the Savannah River each day. But one man who works on the river says it's affected his health, and wonders if something may be wrong.

It started with one man and a rash. Now ferry operator Ron McClendon worries whether his hands are just a sign of something worse: environmental dangers in the Savannah.

McClendon told us he "didn't think too much about it until the new mate came in. Now he's developed a rash very similar to this one."

McClendon's hands are red, marked and swollen. They've looked like this off and on for more than a year. His doctor calls it a fungus, a condition he believes came from working along and in the Savannah River.

"Basically the docking and mooring of the ships when they came in, that's what would get our hands wet," McClendon said.

McClendon has worked on the downtown river ferries for more than three years. In that time, he says his job hasn't changed but the environment he works in has. The oyster beds which once lined the bulkhead walls are gone. Even the barnacles covering the pilings are dead.

"It was going fine," said McClendon . "Then all of a sudden it started diminishing and now it's to the point where it's gone."

There have been other changes, too. McClendon says the otters, porpoises and dolphins which used to follow the ships in aren't there anymore.

"Kind of makes you wonder what's happened to it," he said. "What's caused it."

McClendon says, while his rash will go away with lotions and treatment, the problems in the river may take a lot longer. "I was born here, this is my city. I want people to come here, see it and enjoy it."

We talked with several different environmental groups in the area, none of whom have an immediate answer for what's causing the fungus. Some did say the death of oyster beds could be due to freshwater runoff or sedimentation over the past few years, but couldn't say for sure what happened.

Right now, there's no reason for those who visit River Street in Savannah to worry. Even though two people have come down with this fungus, their hands are touching the water every day, and there's no proof that's even what caused it. The Chatham County Health Department calls this an isolated incident, and not a public health issue. But we will keep you updated.

Reported by: Andrew Davis, andrewdavis@wtoc.com

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