Baltimore County environmental inspectors will begin searching today for the source of the bacterial contamination that has forced the shutdown of Miami Beach Park's swimming area.
County officials said yesterday that the problem, triggered by water-borne fecal coliform bacteria, could have come from waterfowl, area septic tanks or other sources near the beach on the Chesapeake Bay. Results of the survey are expected by the end of the week; a decision on whether to reopen the beach, which closed Monday, could come early next week.
"We're hopeful" that the bacteria's source can be found, said Ian Forrest, bureau chief for the county's Waste Management and Community Services.
Uncertainty surrounding the eastern Baltimore County beach has left the 12 members of the staff wondering whether they will have jobs for the rest of the summer.
County officials have promised to "let [the lifeguards] finish the week out," said lifeguard Sadie Lamont, 20. But after that, she doesn't know what will happen.
A county inspection team will survey the area surrounding the county-operated beach, Forrest said. Among the things it will check are:
* Septic tanks. Although area homes use county drinking water, all have their own septic tanks, which could malfunction or overflow, leaking waste into the water.
* Storm drain outflows. The drains concentrate bacteria from humans and animals, which can be flushed into the bay after a storm.
* Local animals. Several years ago, Forrest said, large numbers of wild geese, ducks and pigeons contributed to high bacteria counts in Miami Beach water.
* Boats. Local boaters could be illegally dumping their portable toilets' contents into the water.
The inspectors also will try to determine whether the park has too many swimmers.
An excessive number of swimmers -- either through unsanitary practices or by their sheer numbers -- can contribute to high bacteria counts, said George Perdikakis, director of the Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management. The park has about 500 visitors on an average weekend day, Lamont said.
County inspectors first noticed the problem at the park in Bowleys Quarters during routine monitoring in early April. The beach opened on Memorial Day.
Overall bacteria counts, averaged over monthly intervals, were slightly above safe levels, said Forrest. But inspectors were alarmed by occasional daily readings that indicated contamination at up to 10 times the safe level.
Until an explanation for the excessive readings is found, there is "no way" the county will let beach-goers into the water, Perdikakis said. There have been no similar reports of bacteria at other bay beaches, he said.
Forrest said his department had received no reports of illness caused by the high bacteria counts. But he cautioned that even swimming in water without high bacteria counts can cause sickness.
To lifeguard Erin Bray, 16, the beach closing "is a shame, because the beach is so beautiful." She said she had been swimming in the water for the past two weeks but had not become sick.
Manager Debra Clemens said the park grounds will remain open during the ban on swimming at no charge to those who want to picnic and use the beach for sunbathing -- as long as they don't go in the water.
Pub Date: 7/09/97