June 26, 2008

No-Swim Advisories at 12 Dade Beaches

By Jennifer Lebovich and Malka Abramoff, The Miami Herald

Jun. 26--Swimmers were advised to stay out of the ocean from Golden Beach to Matheson Hammock on Wednesday after health officials discovered bacteria levels exceeding state standards at 12 Miami-Dade beaches.

The no-swim advisory came after more beaches failed the bacteria indicator test than at any time since the county joined the state's beach monitoring program in 2002.

Swimming in the water can increase risk of gastrointestinal illness, including vomiting or intestinal pain, and ear and eye infections, said Samir Elmir, environmental administrator for the Miami-Dade County Health Department.

"It's the biggest advisory I can remember," Elmir said. "In general our beaches are clean."

Additional water tests were performed on Wednesday, and the county will review the results Thursday to decide whether to keep the advisories.

No warnings were issued in Broward County.

Tests performed Monday measured two bacteria indicators -- fecal coliform and enterococci -- both found in human and animal waste. Fecal coliform levels were elevated and were retested on Tuesday. Enterococci levels were not elevated.

There's no reason to believe the higher levels are from a sewage leak, Elmir said.

Instead, the recent heavy rains and winds are the likely culprit.

"We think that the severe weather conditions . . . and storm-water runoff may be the contributing factor for this condition," Elmir said. "We don't have a report to indicate beach pollution at those sites in terms of sewage spills or overflows."

At 21st Street in Miami Beach, where levels were up, lifeguards warned people to stay out of the water. But a wind-whipped afternoon prompted surfers and kiteboarders to ignore the advisory and hit the waves anyway.

Yoaritt Sienfuegos, who came from Tampa to windsurf, said he'd try to avoid falling in or getting any water in his mouth.

"I'm just going to go in," said Sienfuegos, 20. "It doesn't matter if I get sick. I came here to surf."

Others, like bather Jenara Nerenberg, didn't know about the advisory. Toweling off on the beach, she was unhappy to hear the news.

"I feel gross swallowing the water," she said. "It makes me a little concerned."

Sewage contains hundreds of potential pathogens in the forms of bacteria, cysts and spores.

Water quality tests measure fecal coliform and enterococci, which scientists consider classic "indicators" of human waste.

The organisms, which normally inhabit the intestine, aren't harmful themselves, but elevated levels could signal the presence of more dangerous bugs.

The water is tested weekly at 19 Miami-Dade beach sites from Golden Beach to Florida City, Elmir said. A dozen sites failed at least one test Monday and Tuesday.

"To be getting positive readings to that extent running that stretch of the beach, that's a new one," said T.J. Marshall, coordinator for the Florida Coastal and Ocean Coalition, a group of nonprofits working on coastal and marine issues.

"It is something people should take seriously."


To see more of The Miami Herald or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.herald.com.

Copyright (c) 2008, The Miami Herald

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

For reprints, email [email protected], call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.