EVALUATION OF CURRENT INDICATORS OF WATER SAFETY FOR COASTAL RECREATIONAL WATERS
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As summer months approach, excitement for the warm sun and water trigger families to solidify plans for a trip to the beach. Parents worry about packing for the kids, affording travel expenses, finding lodging, and making sure there is enough sunscreen for everyone. Does anyone ever worry about the condition of the ocean water they will be swimming in? In America, the Environmental Protection Agency monitors the health of coastal recreational waters and has the authority to close beaches that do not meet their safety standards. Bodies of water may contain pathogenic bacteria, protozoa, and viruses found in animal waste. These fecal pathogens contaminate our waterways through coastal and shoreline development, wastewater collection and treatment facilities, septic tanks, urban runoff, disposal of human waste from boats, bathers themselves, animal feeding operations, and natural animal sources like wildlife. Humans that swim in these infected waters risk diseases as mild as ear infections and sore throats, to more serious diseases such as dysentery, typhoid fever, and Hepatitis A. However, instead of testing for a variety of diseases, the EPA uses indicator organisms, E. coli and enterococci, to monitor fecal contamination in coastal recreational waters. If E. coli counts in freshwater rise above 126 organisms per 100 ml or if Enterococci counts in saltwater rise above 35 organisms per 100ml, a sign posting or beach closure is necessary. E. coli and Enterococci, referred to as indicator organisms or fecal indicator bacteria (FIB), are two of the many organisms that live in the intestinal tracks of mammals and birds. Everyday one human will pass approximately 100 billion to 10 trillion individual E. coli bacteria in their feces. These indicators do not normally harm humans. However, there has been a lot of press about E. coli infecting the public through food. This particular strain of E.coli, E. coli 0157:H7, is a rare but dangerous strain which causes hemorrhaging in the intestines. Because these indicators are relied on so heavily to determine safety of water, it is imperative to determine if these are suitable indicators, understand the environmental factors that allow them to thrive, and ways to eliminate them from the waters. Some of these factors include temperature, light, salinity, rainfall, predation, available nutrients and environmental pollutants.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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