By Central Michigan District Health Department

REED CITY — With the summer weather, many people will soon be enjoying beaches at the many lakes and rivers nearby. For more than 16 years, Central Michigan District Health Department has conducted a bathing beach monitoring program of public beaches in the six-county district, which includes Arenac, Clare, Gladwin, Isabella, Osceola and Roscommon counties. This year CMDHD is partnering with the Midland County Health Department to assist in monitoring select beaches in Midland County.

“Although funding continues to be limited, CMDHD will be able to monitor the most heavily used beaches and the beaches most vulnerable to contamination in our service area," said Steve King, director of environmental health services with CMDHD. "Beaches that are open to the public but not part of our monitoring program, including smaller beaches, campgrounds and children’s camps have been asked by the health department to either implement a water sampling program that meets the State standards or post notices at the beaches to inform the public whether or not the water has been tested for E. coli bacteria.

"If you don’t see a posting at a public beach advising whether the beach is monitored and how to find the results of testing, you should contact the beach manager or local municipality responsible for the beach to request they post the beach."

Surface waters contaminated with elevated levels of E. coli bacteria can result in flu-like symptoms including nausea, vomiting, stomachache, diarrhea, headache and fever. Other minor illnesses associated with swimming in contaminated waters include ear, eye, nose and throat infections and skin rashes. In highly polluted waters, swimmers run the risk of exposure to more serious disease causing organisms such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, E. coli O157, Norovirus and Shigella.

“By monitoring our public swimming areas throughout the summer season, we can promote public safety by warning of high levels of harmful bacteria,” King said.

When it comes to making a decision as to which beaches to visit on summer days, CMDHD offers the following tips:

  • Large amounts of waterfowl present (geese, ducks) could mean an increased amount of “bird droppings” which may contain high concentrations of E. coli bacteria. There also may be a higher risk of swimmer's itch.
  • Do not swim in public beaches if you have open sores or lesions on your body.
  • Research the number of closings the beach has had in the most recent years (visit cmdhd.org, Public Beach Monitoring).
  • If there has been a heavy rain event within the past 48 hours, use caution in swimming due to possible runoff and higher levels of bacteria in the water.
  • If the water is discolored with a greenish, blue or milky appearance, this may indicate an algae bloom. Certain algae blooms can produce toxins that could make someone ill.
  • Public beaches used by a large number of people, especially small children, could contain body fluids and fecal matter.
  • Don’t swim where the beach has an overabundance of trash and litter.
  • Dry off immediately with a clean towel after getting out of the water. Don’t forget to use sunscreen and take precautions against sunburn. It’s also a good idea to take a shower after spending a day at the beach.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before eating.

The program is made available through funds from the Department of Environmental Quality, the Clean Michigan Initiative, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.