Officials study link between rain and bacteria in water
June 18, 2017
BRANFORD, Conn. (AP) — For Kellyn Reese, waking up on Tuesday mornings and going to the beach because it's her job is a nice perk of being a summer intern at the East Shore District Health Department.
"The water affects everyone," she said, which is why she believes her job is so important.
Reese is studying public health and environmental health at East Carolina University in North Carolina. She will be an intern for the East Shore department, working on the Connecticut shoreline until the end of July.
Reese spends her Tuesday mornings driving around to all the public and private natural swimming areas in Branford, North Branford and East Haven, collecting water samples and putting them on ice in her purple cooler.
The samples are then collected by state Department of Public Health couriers and brought to the state lab in Rocky Hill for testing. Water quality testing has always been a priority for the East Shore department every summer, but this year, Alex Cinotti, the assistant director of health, has something he's trying to prove.
Every year, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the department collects weekly water samples from 12 water bodies used for swimming, both freshwater and saltwater, to ensure bacteria levels are low enough for public safety.
Samples are collected and tested once a week, and as long as bacteria levels fall below state-determined risk levels, the beaches and other water bodies remain open.
This year, however, Cinotti would like to take the sampling a step further — to show a direct correlation between rainfall and elevated bacteria levels, he said, as rain will often wash contaminants into public waters and cause bacteria levels to rise.
"This is our opportunity to take samples and establish a pattern," Cinotti said. "Bacteria is bacteria and we consider it pathogenic."
As such, in addition to the weekly sampling of water, Cinotti said that the department is collecting samples after heavy rains to see if bacteria levels rise after rainfall. This kind of analysis could not be done last summer, Cinotti said, because there were few rain events due to the drought.
On the state level, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection will close public beaches after a significant amount of rainfall, in anticipation of potentially higher bacteria levels.
Scott Szalkiewicz, a health program supervisor for the state Health Department, told the Register last summer that because samples take 24 hours to process, it's helpful to be able to close beaches before test results come in when officials believe bacteria levels will be high based on the amount of rain and visual indicators.
The East Shore District Health Department serves Branford, North Branford and East Haven. The 12 bathing waters surveyed each week include the east and west East Haven beaches, the Clark Avenue beach, Branford Point, Stony Creek, Hotchkiss Grove, Turtle Bay, Sunrise Cove, Lanphier Cove, Cedar Lake, Linsley Lake and Clear Lake.
According to water quality records from the East Shore District Health Department in 2016, there was only one time when bacteria levels reached a level at which one of the beaches had to close. Sunrise Cove reached a level of 1,000 colonies of bacteria in the sample of 100 milliliters of water on Aug. 2, 2016, according to the records.
Cinotti said that the safe levels for salt water are 104 colonies of bacteria per 100 milliliters of water and 235 colonies for fresh water per 100 milliliters of water.
Some things that cause heightened bacteria levels include wild animal and dog feces, sewer overflows and leaks, Cinotti said. Rain may wash contaminants such as sewer overflows, nitrogen-rich pollutants and goose and dog feces into the Sound and other bathing water bodies.
Potential health risks from swimming in water with high levels of bacteria include possible infections to open wounds and gastrointestinal illness when water is accidentally swallowed, Cinotti said. He added that it's possible swimmers could contract eye- or ear-related illnesses from high levels of bacteria.
"We really need to protect children," Cinotti said. "They are more vulnerable than adults."
Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com