Lake County water advisories should be taken seriouslyLast week the Minnesota Department of Health issued water contact advisories for numerous beaches along the North Shore, including two in Two Harbors. At press time last Wednesday, only Flood Bay remained under advisory, but it was the second time in as many weeks that the alert went out.
By: Claire Hoffert, Lake County News Chronicle
Last week the Minnesota Department of Health issued water contact advisories for numerous beaches along the North Shore, including two in Two Harbors. At press time last Wednesday, only Flood Bay remained under advisory, but it was the second time in as many weeks that the alert went out.
So, just how safe is the water? What’s in it that can be harmful? And who is responsible for protecting the public from the effects of contamination?
Disease-causing germs, or pathogens, classified as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, or algae, can be found in beach water. Waterborne pathogens can cause many types of illnesses, the most common being bacterial infections of the skin, eyes, ears, nose, and throat. Gastroenteritis can also result, as can respiratory illness. Entering lakes and streams in waste, sewage, or runoff, pathogens contaminate that water source.
To help prevent infection by these pathogens, the MDH samples beach water to obtain the level of risk to public health. Beaches in Lake County are checked once a week and only for evidence of E. Coli.
“We look at only E. coli because when it is present it’s a good bet that other pathogens are,” Cindy Hakala, the Beach Program Coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Health said.
After an advisory is posted, the water is sampled every day until it is deemed safe. When sampling, two separate measurements are collected: a single sample and a geometric means. Testing and analysis usually take around 48 hours. Swimming in beaches with advisories isn’t illegal, but beach advisories do mean that it’s not a good idea to be in the water.
Studies by the University of Minnesota Duluth have shown that there are many different sources of contamination. The most common are geese, human waste, dogs, seagulls and trash. Also, storm water contributes in bringing trash from other areas to beaches.
Symptoms of recreational water illnesses include sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, skin and eye infections, as well as fever, according to MDH. If you experience any of these after eating or being in the water, call the Food or Waterborne Illness Hotline at 1-877-366-3455.
Ensuring the safety of recreational beach waters, the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in an effort to “strengthen beach standards and testing, provide faster laboratory test methods, predict pollution, invest in health and methods research and inform the public,” according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency website.
In Lake County, Stewart River and Agate Bay have also been listed as having unsafe levels of E.coli.
Pathogens are dangerous to everyone, but children, especially those who put their hands in their mouths or swallow water, and the elderly are the most susceptible. Individuals with poor immune systems are also more likely to be affected.
According to the MDH, beach visitors can help prevent bacteria from entering the water by picking up after pets, washing hands after using the restroom, avoiding the water when sick, disposing of diapers properly, throwing trash into trash cans instead of leaving it on the beach, and abstaining from feeding birds. Taking a shower before swimming also helps to keep germs from entering the public water.
For more information on beach safety, waterborne pathogens, or recreational water illnesses, visit the Minnesota Department of Health website at www.health.state.mn.us, for beach advisories, www.mnbeaches.org, or call 218-302-6195.