An Anne Arundel Community College scientist and the county Health Department may hold the key to solving the high levels of bacteriathat plague the Severn River every summer.
Sally Hornor, a biologist at the college's Environmental Center, has proposed a two-year investigation into the source of fecal coliform bacteria in the 23-mile-long river and its tributaries.
If the health department approves, Hornor said, she wants to begin the study in March.
The county Health Department may pay for the $27,940 study, Health Officer ThomasAndrews told the Severn River Association on Tuesday night. Andrews said Hornor must find at least part of the money in the 1990-1991 Health Department budget; the rest could come from the 1991-1992 budget and state grants.
FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, an article yesterday about bacteria testing of the Severn River incorrectly explained who should pay for the study. Some money must be found by county Health Officer Thomas Andrews in his 1990-1991 budget. The rest could come from the 1991-1992 budget and state grants.
The Anne Arundel County Sun regrets the errors.
Health Department scientists must also validate the study's methods, Andrews said.
Tests sponsored each summer by the Severn River Association, which represents about 90 neighborhoodsin the 70-square-mile watershed, have consistently found high countsof fecal coliform bacteria.
Hornor conducted those tests for 30 waterfront communities during the past two summers, and the county Health Department also conducts fecal coliform tests each summer.
Fecal coliform bacteria is not a health hazard, but it is associated with human and animal wastes, which are threats. Human waste can transmit diseases such as polio and hepatitis and cause ailments such as diarrhea and earaches.
Animal and human wastes also promote algae growth, which can suffocate other aquatic life.
Worried about the safety of their children swimming in the Severn, many residents complained last summer that the Health Department was not doing enough to notify them of high fecal coliform counts or to correct the problem.
"We cannot manage an estuary like a swimming pool," Andrews said Tuesday night. "We can't just dump a bunch of chlorine in and not worry about it."
Hornor's study could help if she can devise a method to detect the source -- either animal or human -- of fecal coliform bacteria, Andrews said.
Andrews said he may publish the monthly results of the Health Department's testing program in the newspaper. And, if money is available, he said he will establish a telephone hot line to supply weekly updates.
But, he cautioned, those results reflectonly trends, because rain washes new pollutants into the water all the time.
"We don't have a way, if it rains on Friday afternoon, totell you if it's OK for the swim team to get into the water and raceup and down between the piers on Saturday," Andrews said.
As a rule, Andrews said residents should avoid the water for a day or more after a storm.
Gradually, the water will cleanse itself, he said.