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Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Beach safety website lists E coli advisories

By Nancy Allen
The state has launched another website to help the public stay safe while recreating in state waters.
The Ohio Department of Health's new beach safety website (www.odh.ohio.gov/healthybeaches) allows Ohioans to check for E. coli bacteria and/or harmful algal bloom advisories at the 62 monitored beaches at Lake Erie and state parks.
The site shows the state park campground beach and the east beach on Grand Lake has an algal bloom advisory and the lake's west beach has an E. coli advisory. Six other public beaches in Ohio, four of them on Lake Erie and two on Buckeye Lake, have active advisories.
Brian Miller, manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, said E. coli levels fluctuate widely and daily. High readings are typically found where there are lots of geese, he said. The bacteria is found in the lower intestine of warm-blooded organisms and in their waste.
"Our west beach is the place where we see the largest amount of waterfowl consistently and it's a pretty enclosed area," he said.
Miller said state park officials erected E. coli advisory signs in late May when the west beach produced high readings and kept the signs up even though levels are now below acceptable levels. He said people are already steering clear of the lake because of the algae toxin advisory.
"If we didn't have the microcystin we would be watching the beaches more closely for E. coli and posting as needed," he said.
Miller sees the site as another tool to help people stay safe.
  The new website was developed with funding from a federal EPA grant and is a part of ODH's expanded bathing beach monitoring communications efforts.
Each year between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the state samples selected public beaches for E. coli. The bacteria in water is a good indicator of pollution that could be potentially harmful to swimmers. The bacteria may cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps or additional health problems in humans. Symptoms generally appear three to four days after exposure but can take as long as nine days.
The state also does monitoring for harmful blue-green algae blooms (cyanobacteria). Once a harmful algal bloom advisory is posted, the state will periodically sample until the toxins produced by the bloom are below acceptable thresholds or the end of the beach season.
Earlier this month, the Ohio departments of health and natural resources and the Ohio EPA launched its own website (www.epa.state.oh.us/dsw/HAB.aspx) to provide a list of harmful algal bloom advisories in state waters. It's also a clearing house for information on toxic blue-green algae.
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