Testing keeps local beaches safe

Deborah Prescott | Daily Press Beachgoers at the Escanaba beach enjoy the water recently. Public Health-Delta & Menominee Counties test the water for E. coli at four local swimming beaches once a week between the week before Memorial Day and a week after Labor Day. If E. coli particles are high, the beach is closed until testing proves the water is clear. The four sites tested in Delta and Menominee counties are the Escanaba beach, Gladstone beach, Henes Park and Memorial Beach.

ESCANABA — Are local beaches free from E. coli bacteria? Testing by local health officials makes sure they are.

Escanaba and Gladstone beaches are monitored and tested once a week by the Public Health-Delta and Menominee Counties. Included in the testing are Henes Park and Memorial Beach in Menominee County.

Beach water is tested from the week before Memorial Day through the week after Labor Day for E. coli bacteria. The water is tested once a week and also after one inch of rain has fallen in a certain time frame. Through the years, each beach has been closed for a period of time. Henes Park closes most often, according to health officials.

“The water level at Henes Park can get low, down to one inch deep,” said Public Health-Delta & Menominee Counties Health Officer Mike Snyder. “When the temperatures warm up with bird feces in it, the water becomes contaminated quickly, causing the beach to close. This year the water level is higher, so we haven’t had any problems this summer.”

Playing and swimming in contaminated water can cause sickness and illness in people with weakened immune systems. Tests check the amount of E. coli organisms in the water that come from warm blooded animals. It is an indicator of sewage contamination. The higher the level of E. coli in the water, the higher the chance is of getting sick after swimming.

Public Health issues an advisory if a one-day test shows over 300 E. coli organisms per 100 milliliters of water, or a running 30 day geometric mean was over 130 E. coli organisms per 100 milliliters of water. To test the water, three samples are collected from each site and tested with equipment at the Escanaba Water Treatment Plant Laboratory. Results are known within 24 hours.

“We get three samples for each test at each beach,” said Snyder. “If we find we need to close a beach due to contamination, we contact the municipality first. They put out a sign and we contact the media.”

After a beach has tested positive for E. coli, Public Health tests the water each day to follow up and open it after the test proves contamination does not exist.

“Water can become contaminated by bird, seagull feces,” Snyder noted. “After a heavy rain contaminants from drains, roads, can contaminate the water enough to shut down the beach.”

Public Health sends the sampling results and advisories to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Updates can be found on the website, www.deq.state.mi.us/beach. Information of 1,224 public beaches and 546 private beaches in Michigan can be found on the website.

Contact the Environmental Health Division of Public Health for more information on Public Health’s Bathing Beach Monitoring Program at 906-786-9692.