(June 15, 2010) The Health Department of Northwest Michigan has begun weekly tests of lake water with plans to alert beach goers when levels of E. coli indicate waters are contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites that cause waterborne diseases like viral meningitis or diarrhea. Testing began on June 1 for Lake Michigan beaches; inland beach testing will begin on June 28, 2010.
Public health officials will post health advisories and closures at the public beaches when lake waters are unsafe. If the Health Department closes a beach, samples of lake water are tested daily until it is safe for swimming and the beach can be reopened. You can check if a beach is closed on the Health Department website, www.nwhealth.org.
According to Scott Kendzierski, Director of Environmental Health Services for the Health Department of Northwest Michigan, waterborne diseases were once a serious threat to public health. "Modern sewage handling practices and polio vaccinations have eliminated many of the most serious causes of waterborne disease, but risks are still there," he said. "E. coli contamination in lakes is typically caused by animal droppings, especially waterfowl. Accidents, weather, temperature, and water conditions can also interfere with lakes' natural clearing of disease-causing organisms."
Ongoing weekly "sanitary surveys" of public beaches is another important component to the program. Health Department employees check physical properties of the beach, potential sources of contamination, availability of drinking water, status of restrooms, provisions for trash, availability of safety equipment, and other health and safety concerns.
When beaches are unsafe, the Health Department works with local officials to correct problems as quickly as possible. "The Health Department's laboratory, the Northern Michigan Regional Laboratory, is located in Gaylord, so we can get test results very quickly," said Kendzierski. "Fast turnarounds help us to respond quickly to poor water quality and can significantly shorten the time a beach is closed."
The Public Beach Program is funded with grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Michigan Department of Natural Resources & Environment.
The Health Department of Northwest Michigan is mandated by the Michigan Public Health Code to promote wellness, prevent disease, provide quality healthcare, address health problems of vulnerable populations, and protect the environment for the residents and visitors of Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet, and Otsego counties. If you have concerns about local water quality, report them to your local health department office.