November 26, 2014

Three Saginaw Bay access points under E. coli contamination advisories

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ARENAC COUNTY — Two beaches and one road end in Arenac County that people can use to access the Saginaw Bay are under contamination advisories due to high levels of E. coli bacteria present in water samples taken June 24.

According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s BeachGuard results, the Hammel Beach Road access point, White’s Beach and the Arenac County Park on Rumsey Road in Au Gres all displayed high levels of E. coli.

Water quality standards laid out in Michigan Public Health Code and Rule 323.1062(1) say water where total body contact occurs during recreation should not exceed 300 E. coli per 100 milliliters of water, based on the mean of three samples taken from a given access point.

June 24 results show water at the Arenac County Park in Au Gres of having a mean of 1,753.41 E. coli per 100 ml. White’s Beach samples showed 692.547 per 100 ml, and Hammel Beach Road displayed 547.324 per 100 ml.

The readings at the two beaches were significantly higher than the June 17 samples, when the county park E. coil count was 162.4 E. coli per 100 ml, and White’s Beach read 39.2 per 100 ml. Hammel Beach Road’s latest sample was lower than the week before, when there were more than 920 e. coli in the water tested.

Samples are taken by the Central Michigan District Health Department. Michelle Patton, director of environmental health services at the health department, said the spikes in samples are likely due to rainfall during recent weeks.

“We see numbers increase after rain events,” she said. “I think it’s important for people to learn that and take precautions after substantial rain events.”

Patton said E. coli is found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, and that animal droppings on beaches or the coast can be washed into the body of water during rain events. Windy conditions can also have an effect, as waves can reach higher up on the coast and pull fecal matter from the surface into the water, Patton said.

“It’s almost like it rinses everything off the beach into the water, so you get that wave action back and forth on the beach. You’ve got animals, you’ve got birds,” she said. “You’ve got all of those things that can influence it.”

National Weather Service Meteorologist Jim Keysor said between June 15 and June 25, the area did experience above-average rainfall. Keysor’s measurements are based off of observations in Gladwin and East Tawas, as there are no weather spotters in Arenac County registered with the NWS.

Keysor said June 15-25, Gladwin saw about 2 1/2 inches of rainfall, while East Tawas received just over 2 inches of rain. While he noted that amount of rain is not record-breaking or unprecedented, Keysor said it is above average considering those areas average between 3 and 3 1/2 inches of rain for the whole month of June.

“That’s obviously above normal rainfall for that period,” he said. “If we continue that for an entire month, you’d basically double that for an entire month.”

Eventually, without a host, E. coli will die off, Patton said. However, if water where it is present is ingested, it can cause issues for the person who swallows it, she said.

“If you swallow that water, then you are providing it the right environment for it to grow and cause some type of disease, whether it’s gastrointestinal — sometimes it’s even skin rashes that are known to occur,” she said.

Ingesting water where E. coli levels are high does not guarantee someone will become sick, Patton said.

“Look at how many times you’ve gone swimming over the years, and you don’t get sick,” she said. “But sometimes it can happen.”

The health department is taking samples at six sites this summer, Patton said. The sampling sites include the county park, Hammel Beach Road, White’s Beach, Singing Bridge beach, the Twining Road access and cemetery beach north of the Sims-Whitney Cemetery. Patton said Saginaw valley State University is also assisting with testing in Arenac County, collecting water samples from the Bessinger Road Beach.

Sample results are updated online at www.deq.state.mi.us/beach.

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