Using county’s free water sampling service is a no-brainer
@Opinion:Although the official start of summer is just short of two weeks away, the Oakland County Health Division, with the help of four unpaid summer interns, is setting out to monitor 44 public beaches on 37 county lakes for dangerous levels of bacteria until the end of July. This is nothing new, and it’s a program we’ve applauded in the past because of the public health benefits. However, the program has been reduced in size and scope since 2007 due to budget shortfalls that have affected other important county programs, as well. Those 44 beaches are the lucky few being tested, but there are 279 active county beaches that are public or semi-public. Those using semi-public beaches that aren’t being monitored by the county shouldn’t throw their hands up and simply hope that their beaches are bacteria-free. There are other avenues to get your beach water tested, and we urge people using semi-public beaches to take part in the beach testing program to ensure that potentially dangerous levels of bacteria aren’t present in the waters that they and their families enjoy.
The county’s annual beach monitoring program started Monday, June 6, and will continue for eight weeks — a typical time frame given that the interns tasked with doing some of the work have school schedules to work around. Yet, if beaches continue to have water quality programs in August, for example, the Health Division will continue to sample the water at those beaches until the problem is rectified.
Each of the 44 targeted public beaches will be sampled once weekly. If the water samples collected don’t meet state standards — a one-day standard of no more than 300 bacteria colonies per 100 milliliters (ml) of water, and a 30-day geometric average standard of no more than 130 bacteria colonies per 100 ml — the Health Division will close the beach. The beach reopens once bacteria levels are back below state-set standards.
The county tests beach water samples for E. coli bacteria, which can come from wastewater treatment plants, leaking septic tanks, farms, wildlife, and stormwater runoff. If E. coli is present in high levels at a particular beach, it’s likely that other pathogens may be in the water and sand, as well.
And that wouldn’t bode well for the users of that beach. While most strains of E. coli are harmless, they serve as indicators of fecal pollution, which can contain other harmful pathogens — including other bacteria, viruses, and protozoa — according to Dr. Joanna Pope, a post-doctoral fellow at Michigan State University (MSU) working in the lab of Dr. Joan Rose, the Homer Nowlin Chair in Water Research at MSU and an international expert in water microbiology, water quality and public health safety.
According to the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), epidemiological studies of fresh water bathing beaches have established a direct relationship between the density of E. coli in water and the occurrence of swimming-associated gastroenteritis, and the recognition of this relationship has led to the development of criteria that can be used to establish recreational water quality standards.
So with E. coli being a useful indicator of the presence of fecal pollution — something no beach-goer wants to encounter, particularly since illness can occur from exposure to water that contains fecal pollution — it stands to reason that the county Health Division is encouraging managers of semi-public beaches to have water samples collected and analyzed at the county’s lab, free of charge.
This is sound advice, and we strongly recommend that the managers of those beaches — usually owned by homeowner associations — heed it. With effectively no cost to the semi-public beach managers themselves — with the exception of the cost of gas to bring the water samples to the county — it provides a level of certainty that the water people are using for recreational purposes isn’t going to harm them.
And if the sample those semi-public managers submit returns with E. coli levels higher than state standards, that gives health professionals the ability to close the beach quickly, thereby keeping the beach users safe from harmful bacteria.
It seems like a no-brainer. If people want to ensure their good health while swimming at semi-public beaches, the waters should be tested. The county provides a free-of-charge avenue to help, and managers of private beaches should use the tools at their disposal to keep swimmers safe from bacteria.
To learn more about how to collect beach water samples for testing at the county lab, go to www.oakgov.com/health or call 248-858-1280.