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Great Lakes Article:

U.S. tracks pollution, illness at Huntington Beach
John C. Kuehner
The Plain Dealer

Bay Village - Sunbathers and swimmers will share the sand and shoreline with scientists for the next seven weekends at Huntington Beach.

Federal researchers will start an unprecedented study Saturday that will closely monitor Lake Erie's water quality at Huntington Beach and track the health of visitors afterwards for any signs of illness.

The research is part of a national study designed to better understand the link between water pollution, swimming and health, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is doing the study.

Researchers will test new lab technology that gives same-day results about the possible presence of pathogens in the water. With present technology, health officials must wait 24 hours be fore they learn whether water is too polluted for swimming.

"If you can test quickly, then in a few hours you can say if the water is safe to swim in, or it's not," said Kristen Brenner, an environmental microbiologist with the U.S. EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory in Cincinnati. "Then you can help the public and notify them before a possible exposure occurs."

Researchers chose Huntington because it fit their criteria. It's large - 2,000 feet long - and draws many visitors. Last swimming season drew more than 180,000.

Huntington also faces several potential sources of possible contamination. A drain pipe just west of the beach dumps storm water into Lake Erie. Also, nearby Porter and Cahoon creeks, which also could carry contamination, empty into Lake Erie near the beach.

Health officials have posted unsafe water warnings nine times this year at Huntington. Cleveland beaches Edgewater and Villa Angela have had postings all summer long.

"We didn't pick the beach because it's the dirtiest, heavens no," Brenner said. "We're looking for a typical beach."

Huntington is the second Great Lakes beach the EPA has chosen to study. Researchers also are studying Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's West Beach near Chicago. The study will involve about 5,000 families at the two beaches.

Similar work will be done at beaches on other coasts.

The study, which will take place Saturdays and Sundays, was authorized under the national Beach Act of 2000, which aims to reduce the risk of disease to beachgoers.

"The more we can learn, the better," said Jill Lis, the bathing beach program manager for the Cuyahoga County Health Department, which will do water sampling for the study. "Not only will this let us assess water quality quicker, but learn more if people really are becoming ill."

Swimming in unhealthy water can produce a range of illnesses. They can be minor, such as a sore throat or diarrhea, or serious, such as meningitis, encephalitis or severe gastroenteritis.

The EPA will have about 20 interviewers posted at the beach who will ask a few basic questions when visitors arrive and leave, such as the length of time they were at the beach and whether they swallowed any water. Researchers also will follow up 10 to 12 days later to see if beachgoers came down with any illness or symptoms.

Cleveland Metroparks, which operates Huntington Reservation and its beach, will extend its swimming season, spokeswoman Jane Christyson said. The beach was set to close Aug. 17, but will remain open until Sept. 14 on weekends only from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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