A recent study published in Environmental Science & Technology found that 58% of the 167 beaches tested in the US had levels of bacteria that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safety threshold, potentially exposing beachgoers to illnesses such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and skin rashes. The problem is particularly severe in the Great Lakes region, where 70% of the beaches tested have unsafe levels of bacteria. The researchers noted beaches that have higher visitor numbers and nearby stormwater runoff tend to have higher levels of bacteria. Precautions include checking advisories, washing hands, avoiding swimming after heavy rains, not feeding birds, and avoiding swimming near drainage pipes.
New Study Finds High Levels of Bacteria in Popular Beaches
Summer is upon us, and many of us are excited to hit the beach and enjoy the sun and waves. However, a recent study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology has found that many popular beaches in the United States have high levels of fecal bacteria in the water. This can pose a serious health risk to beachgoers.
According to the study, the researchers collected water samples from 167 beaches in 35 states and Puerto Rico. They found that 58% of the beaches had levels of bacteria that exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended safety threshold. Fecal bacteria, which is found in human and animal waste, can cause illnesses such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and skin rashes if ingested or if it comes into contact with an open wound.
The study found that the problem is particularly severe in the Great Lakes region, where 70% of the beaches tested had unsafe levels of bacteria. The researchers also noted that beaches that have higher levels of visitors and nearby stormwater runoff tend to have higher levels of bacteria in the water.
So what can beachgoers do to protect themselves? Here are some tips:
1. Check for Advisories
Before heading to the beach, check with your local health department to see if there are any advisories or closures due to high levels of bacteria. Many beaches now have websites and apps that provide real-time information about water quality.
2. Avoid Swimming After Rain
Heavy rain can cause stormwater runoff to flow into the ocean, carrying with it all sorts of pollutants and bacteria. It’s best to avoid swimming for at least a day after a heavy rain event.
3. Wash Your Hands
Even if you don’t go in the water, it’s a good idea to wash your hands after a day at the beach. Sand and other beach debris can harbor bacteria, and it’s easy to accidentally ingest it if you touch your face or mouth.
4. Don’t Feed the Birds
Seagulls and other shorebirds can carry and spread bacteria. Don’t feed them, and make sure to clean up any food or crumbs on the beach.
5. Don’t Swim Near Drainage Pipes
Stormwater drainage pipes often discharge directly into the ocean. Avoid swimming near these pipes, as the water can be especially contaminated.
It’s important to note that the vast majority of beaches in the United States are safe for swimming. However, it’s still a good idea to take precautions to protect yourself and your family. By following these simple tips, you can still have fun in the sun and surf, while minimizing your risk of illness.
FAQs about High Levels of Bacteria in Popular Beaches
What is fecal bacteria?
Fecal bacteria, also known as enterococcus or fecal coliform bacteria, is found in human and animal waste. It can cause illnesses such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and skin rashes if ingested or if it comes into contact with an open wound.
Why are there high levels of bacteria in the water at some beaches?
There are several factors that can contribute to high levels of bacteria in the water at beaches, including stormwater runoff, sewage overflow, and nearby wildlife.
What can I do to protect myself from bacteria at the beach?
Check for advisories, avoid swimming after heavy rain, wash your hands, don’t feed the birds, and avoid swimming near drainage pipes.
Are all beaches affected by high levels of bacteria?
No, the vast majority of beaches in the United States are safe for swimming. However, it’s still a good idea to take precautions to protect yourself and your family.