Researcher blames beach closings
on lack of testing
The Associated Press
MILWAUKEE The lack of a low-cost, quick test for illness-causing
organisms is among problems causing municipalities along
the Lake Michigan shore to close beaches unnecessarily,
a researcher says.
Richard Whitman, chief of the Lake Michigan Ecological
Research Station in Porter, Ind., said as many as half
the days of beach closings on Wisconsin shores of Lake
Michigan last year might not have been necessary.
Whitman is co-author of a study that focuses on closings
of Lake Michigan beaches in Indiana, Illinois, Michigan
He spoke to more than 130 scientists and municipal officials
attending a beach closing conference Thursday.
He said his ongoing study of Illinois beaches questions
the current reliance on testing beach water only for E.
coli bacteria as an indicator of recent fecal contamination.
Last month, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
announced that Door County will receive about $74,350
to monitor bacteria this summer. The county is receiving
more money than any other county under the new statewide
Great Lakes beach-monitoring program. Door has 53 beaches
recognized in the program and 13 ranked high priority
meaning they will be tested for E. coli bacteria five
Whitman, a biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey,
said beach sand and mats of algae floating along shorelines
both harbor E. coli for long periods.
Growth of E. coli bacteria also is temperature-dependent,
Whitman said, and as the water temperature rises in summer,
E. coli concentrations increase.
Most forms of E. coli are harmless and live in the digestive
tracts of humans and warm-blooded animals, which includes
The exception is E. coli O157:H7, which produces a toxin
that causes severe bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps
and can lead to kidney failure or death.
The nontoxic E. coli do not cause intestinal illness,
but they can indicate the presence of other pathogens.
To protect public health, we also should be measuring
pathogens, Whitman said.
That will not be possible this summer because of high
costs and long delays of up to five days in current tests
for viruses and other disease-causing organisms.