Unsafe water closes beach

High bacteria levels reported at one Sandy Point site


Amid the most stifling, sticky weather in recent memory, the water at one of Sandy Point State Park's two beaches remains off-limits until at least tomorrow because of bacteria levels that the Anne Arundel County Department of Health have deemed hazardous for human contact.

The county's advisory, the first issued at the park on the Broadneck Peninsula in more than 20 years, applies to the east beach, which is usually reserved for groups. The South Beach is not effected.

The Department of Health, which usually tests the bay waters at Sandy Point five times a week during the swimming season, has been running tests daily since closing the beach Saturday, said spokeswoman Elin Jones.

The most recent data, from water samples collected Sunday, averaged roughly 475 colonies per 100 milliliters of water, well over the acceptable level of 104. Results take two days to come in.

The Department of Health will decide whether to lift the advisory after two consecutive days of acceptable bacteria readings, Jones said. If samples taken Monday and yesterday are good, the advisory could be lifted as early as tomorrow afternoon, or the department could decide to wait and collect more samples.

People who come into direct contact with water containing unhealthy levels of bacteria can contract eye, skin, or ear infections. Swallowing it could cause intestinal problems, Jones said.

The Department of Health also had issued an advisory Friday night against direct contact with the water at Sandy Point's South Beach, but lifted it Sunday afternoon after bacteria levels dropped.

"The advisory is unusual, because for the past 20-some years we've never had to issue an advisory for the Sandy Point beaches," Jones said.

Even with more than 400 miles of shoreline, Anne Arundel County has few public beaches. So closing Sandy Point's swimming areas over the weekend created chaos and angered patrons, said Field Supervisor Laurie Wichter.

"That was a mess," she said. "We had hundreds and hundreds of cars turn around and leave." Though the south beach advisory has been lifted, fewer people are showing up than usual, but Wichter attributed that to the weather.

"I don't think it has anything to do with the water," she said. "I think it's because it's very, very hot, and ungodly humid."

During the hottest part of yesterday, comparatively few people dotted South Beach. At the east beach, the oldest group in the YMCA Day Camp trekked to the public beach to swim Monday.

"It takes a long time to walk down here," said 11-year-old Dezarea Gorman of Severna Park.

"Yeah, especially with the heat," added Nicole Few, 11, of Severna Park.

"But we're glad we can come down to a beach to swim," finished 11-year-old Severna Park camper Hannah Carroll.

The teens and preteens who got to swim were better off than the 76 younger campers who had to stay behind, even though Hannah and a few others have been stung by jellyfish in the two days that they have been using south beach, said camp counselor Scott Mummey.

"Once they say it's safe and the Health Department thinks it's safe, we'll go in," Mummey said. Despite last weekend's advisory, South Beach visitors ran intrepidly into the water.

"We thought it would be OK if they said it was OK," said Heather Schindler, 34, of Severn, at the beach watching her husband and two small children enjoy the water. Warned by a friend, Schindler had stayed away from the beach over the weekend but made the trip yesterday after calling the park to make sure it was safe.

"It's a little cooler than being at home, where our air conditioner was broken until yesterday," she said.

The county also urged people to avoid direct contact with Mill Creek in Arnold last month because of high bacteria levels, and closed Bear Neck and White Marsh creeks in Edgewater June 28 to July 7 due to a wastewater overflow, Jones said.

"Considering all the samples we collect throughout the summer, we don't issue that many advisories or closings," Jones said.


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