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
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.