2008-06-12 / Front Page

Town Beach closed for swimming

By Sam Bari

The town posted No Swimming signs at Mackerel Cove beach after the state Department of Health closed the beach on June 4 because of high bacteria levels. Photo by Vic Richardson The town posted No Swimming signs at Mackerel Cove beach after the state Department of Health closed the beach on June 4 because of high bacteria levels. Photo by Vic Richardson Hand-painted cardboard signs saying, "No Swimming - Health Department," have greeted visitors at the town-owned beach at Mackerel Cove since last Friday, the start of some of the hottest days on the island in recent years.

The state Department of Health (DOH) tested the water after the June 4 heavy rainstorm and found the levels of enterococci bacteria to be at unacceptable levels.

According to the DOH, the enterococci bacteria can cause everything from a minor rash to digestive and intestinal problems.

The east end of the beach tested at 125, the center at 414, and the west end tested at 135 on Thursday, June 5. Acceptable levels of the health threatening bacteria must not exceed 104.

The Rhode Island standard for enterococci is 104 colony forming units (cfu's) per 100 ml of saltwater and 61 cfu's per 100 ml of freshwater. Any result above the state standard is considered unsafe, and swimmers should refrain from swimming until results return to acceptable levels.

The regular monthly test administered June 3 by BAL Laboratories of Cranston, the environmental testing laboratory contracted by the town, found the levels of the enterococci bacteria to be at .10 across the board, well within acceptable levels.

However, the random test administered by DOH as part of its Bathing Beaches Monitoring Program had dramatically different results.

"It is not unusual for the levels to increase after heavy rainstorms," said Beach Monitoring Program representative Amie Parris. "The 414 reading at the center of the beach was extreme, but a number of different sources could have caused the results," she added.

Parris explained why the DOH included random tests after a heavy rain event as part of the monitoring program. "We know the levels of bacteria can increase to dangerous levels when the storm drains are filled to overflowing with surface water run-off," she said.

Extreme levels at one spot, like the center of the beach area at Mackerel Cove, could have been caused by a dead animal on either the landside or the water side, Parris said. "We don't know. The water was probably contaminated in a small area, otherwise the levels would have been much higher at the east and west ends of the beach," Parris said.

Department of Parks and Recreation Director Bill Piva said that BAL laboratories would test the water again on Tuesday, June 10 and send the results to the DOH. "If all goes well, the levels of bacteria will be within acceptable limits and the beach will be fullystaffed with life guards and ready to go for the June 14 official opening," Piva said.

Parris said that the bacteria content is expected to decrease to acceptable levels in time for the offi- cial yearly opening of the popular beach on Saturday. However, the DOH plans on testing the water again next week to make sure that the levels are consistent.

Even at unacceptable levels for swimming, the bacteria is not considered to be life threatening. Swimming after heavy rainfall should be discouraged for 48 hours or until the water clears, the DOH website warns.

Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said that the contamination probably came from a number of sources. Pinpointing the exact source of the contamination at Mackerel Cove would be difficult because water entering the storm drains that empty into the cove come from a large area.

"The beach has only been closed once in the last two years due to high bacteria levels," Keiser said. "The last time was in 2006, and it was also after a rainstorm. Everything was back to normal within a couple of days," he added.

Keiser said that if the levels proved to be consistently high, the town would certainly take appropriate measures to identify the sources and correct the situation.

For more information about enterococci bacteria levels at all Rhode Island beaches and the water testing program, visit www. ribeaches.org on the Internet, or send e-mail to: RIBeaches@ health.ri.gov

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