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The Daily



08-09-03: Swimming advisory posted on lake beaches by state officials

    Signs warning swimmers of high E. coli bacteria levels in Grand Lake St. Marys should have been posted weeks ago at three public beaches managed by Grand Lake St. Marys State Park, but did not go up until Friday.
    Though the most recent results from water testing performed this week indicate that Grand Lake St. Marys is safe to swim in, the signs must stay until two consecutive biweekly samples show safe levels again.
    Steven Binns, an administrator with the Ohio Department of Health responsible for water testing information from Grand Lake St. Marys, said the state department of health cannot close a state beach, but has the authority to order warning signs on beaches that test above set state levels for e-coli bacteria, which all local beaches did after the July 4 weekend flooding.
    State park officials said they did not erect the signs after the flooding because an order from the Ohio Department of Health to put them up never reached the local park.
    Only after some telephone calls made Friday morning by The Daily Standard to state department of health and Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) officials, were the signs posted.
    Tom Filbert, a maintenance section manager with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in Columbus, blamed the lapse in information on a communication breakdown between ODNR and Ohio Department of Health officials. Filbert said he was not notified by state health department officials ordering the sign postings.
    The signs do not ban swimming but warn of the potential health dangers associated with swimming and caution children, elderly and those in ill health not to swim there.
    Testing performed on water taken from the campground beach at Grand Lake St. Marys State park campground, the west beach near the Villa Nova housing division and the east beach next to East Bank Marina following the July 4 flooding indicated bacteria levels were through the roof, Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Manager Craig Morton said recently.
    Morton said state park officials take two samples from every beach every two weeks to make sure bacteria levels are within safe limits. They test for E. coli, a bacteria that comes from human and animal feces.
    Morton said lake bacteria levels are recorded in colony forming units (CFUs) per 100 milliliters; health department officials do not begin to be concerned until CFU levels reach 235 per 100 milliliters, he said.
    Water samples pulled from the three beaches on July 7 produced readings of 1,600 and 2,500 CFUs per 100 milliliters at the campground beach; 1,000 and 620 CFUs per 100 milliliters at the east beach and a staggering 20,000 CFUs and 1,020 CFUs per milliliter at the west beach.
    Morton said he was never contacted by either ODNR or state department of health officials following the testing.
    Binns said individual state park officials pull the water samples, which are then sent to labs for testing. The results are sent to the state park office were the samples were drawn and to the Ohio Department of Health. If results are higher than the 235 CFU level, Binns said he usually contacts ODNR officials in Columbus  by telephone and sends them a readout of the water testing results. It is then up to ODNR officials to contact individual park offices to tell them they must post warning signs at beaches. The water testing information also is posted on the state department of health's Web site so that ODNR officials or anyone else can access it, Binns said.
    Binns said he could not remember whether or not he called ODNR officials, or if he sent them the results, noting that he is the only person responsible for the beach monitoring program.
    "We're trying to find better ways of communication to get these notifications to the public," Binns said Friday. "I'm hoping we can start a 24-hour hotline where anyone can get information on swimming advisories."
    Binns cautioned people not to be too alarmed about the cautionary signs saying it is normal for bacteria levels to increase dramatically after big storm events due to incoming rainwater runoff, manure runoff from farm fields and human waste from failing private septic systems. But the levels usually come back down fairly quickly, he added.
    "I don't want people to think that they are automatically going to get sick if they are in the water, because they likely won't," Binns said. "All we're trying to do is give people information and then let them decide whether or not they want to swim based on that information."
    Binn explained that the E. coli being tested in the water is not what can make people sick, but that it is an indicator of the presence of pathogens that are potentially harmful to humans.
    "It's not the same E. coli you find in food, but it's an indicator," he explained. "When E. coli levels are higher, the presence of pathogens are higher and people are at greater risk of getting sick."
    People who do become sick from water with high bacteria levels can experience diarrhea, abdominal cramps and elevated body temperature.
    Morton said test results generated from water samples pulled from the lake on Monday showed CFU levels at the campground beach were 76 per 100 milliliters, 6 CFUs per 100 milliliters at the west beach and 2 CFUs per 100 milliliters at the east beach.
    "Since our last sample numbers were pretty good, I think they will contact us and tell us to take them down soon, if it doesn't rain," Morton said.


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