VIRGINIA BEACH — Since the start of the summer, there’s been only one swimming advisory here lasting a day at Chic’s Beach compared to the multiple swimming advisories in other localities.
Brad DeLashmutt is the environmental health supervisor at the Department of Public Health. He said he’s unsure why there have been fewer swim advisories here but there are multiple reasons bacteria levels in the ocean can occasionally spike.
DeLashmutt said enterococcus, an “indicator bacteria,” can come from any warm-blooded animal or wash in with stormwater after heavy rain.
“If there are high levels of enterococcus in the water there could be other viruses and bacteria that can be harmful to the public’s health,” he said.
In the July 10 news release officials wrote enterococcus by itself doesn’t cause illness but “scientific studies indicate their presence is closely correlated to the presence of other disease-causing organisms.”
“People swimming or playing in waters with bacteria levels higher than the standard have an increased risk of developing gastrointestinal illness, as well as skin, eye and respiratory infections,” officials said.
To identify the need for the implementation of a swimming advisory, DeLashmutt said an environmental health specialist “wade out into the water approximately knee-deep” to collect 22 location samples “from Chic’s to Little Island Park in Sandbridge” every Tuesday.
To maintain its validity the specialist has to get the sample to the city’s Public Utilities Lab for testing within 6 hours of collection, DeLashmutt said.
If a sample’s bacteria levels rise above the state water quality standard, “104cfu/100ml for enterococcus,” it’s tested every 24 hours until “whatever’s there naturally moves on,” DeLashmutt said.
“When a sample site fails, the Health Department will issue the advisory halfway to the next sample site location on either side of the failed site,” he said.
The Health Department has been routinely sampling beach waters during summer months since 1976 and has “always been an important program because of the large amount of tourists that visit each year,” DeLashmutt said.
According to the Virginia Department of Health’s website, here are some ways swimmers can avoid the risk of illness at the beach this summer:
- Observe swimming advisories.
- Avoid swallowing water when swimming.
- Avoid swimming for a few days after heavy rainfall.
- Prevent direct contact of cuts and open wounds with recreational water.
- Avoid swimming in areas where dead fish are present.
- Don’t swim if you are ill or have a weakened immune system.
- Shower with soap after swimming.
- Swim away from fishing piers, pipes, drains, and water flowing from storm drains onto a beach.
- Do not dispose of trash, pet waste, or dirty diapers on the beach.