Are you going swimming…… in a porta potty ?

By Dr. Alan Kadish

Swimming in the ocean at your local beach may not be such a good idea, from a health perspective. It all depends on the beach and the timing. Did you ever consider the contents of the water ?

Unfortunately most municipalities dump their waste, yes it’s an amalgamation of everything from chemical effluent to…… They treat the water as required most of the time, however in many cases it’s less than adequate.

The EPA has established a new Beach Action Value (BAV) that will give your state and local officials the tools to properly advise you, if it’s safe to go swimming.  

The BAV is based on a count of bacteria in ~3 oz of water. At 60 cfu/100ml of enterococcus, a family of bacteria, the value is exceeded and the water is considered unsafe.  In practical terms this is akin to measuring how much poop is in the water.

Ask yourself if you want your family or specifically someone who is ill or has sensitive skin to be exposed to fecal material. From a health standpoint this is like throwing gasoline on a fire for those at risk. What parent wants to expose their child to a potential nasty rash or even a very health challenging run to the ER or urgent care ?  

In 2013 in Oregon a whopping 85% of our beaches are not monitored. Of those that are monitored it was found that 1 beach was meeting the safe levels to go swimming. That translates to 1% of monitored beaches were “safe”.

If you’re still inclined to jump in the water, the Oregon Health Authority has a very simple and easy to use tool for checking your beach.

This year there is a opportunity to actually get consistency and have all the beaches monitored. That would allow you to know if the beaches safe. 

Be proactive, there are two things that you’re able to do that can make a large difference in our healthy choices.

Currently the use of the BAV is  optional. The EPA has proposed and has offered grants to get the Oregon Health Authority (OHA), our state government responsible for the beaches, to offer us this information. As a note their current cut off value for the bacteria used by the OHA is 158 cfu/100ml. Almost 3 times the EPA “conservative” levels….and remember they only check from memorial day to labor day….and only 15% of the beaches.

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act would require the Oregon Health Authority to use the BAV to trigger beach notifications. They would only be obligated if they take advantage of the grant.

Go to the OHA site and e-mail or call them at 971-673-1222. Ask them to accept the grant and be part of the solution, really informing us of the water quality on our beaches, regularly and not exposing us to either unknown levels or 3 times what is considered safe, by the EPA. On the OHA site they make it very clear that water monitoring going forward is based on funding from the EPA. No more excuses the funds are available.

You can also go to the NDRC site and sign a petition to urge the EPA to implement additional safeguards that make our drinking water safer.

Second step if you or a family member have any open cuts or sores or are feeling less than optimal, consider not going into the water, at an unchecked beach. Use the pool or….forget the water.

Worse case….always shower after any beach water exposures and consider a course of probiotics, just to stack the deck in your favor. These simple tasks can save you from bringing home lots more grief than you wanted, especially from a vacation.


Copyright Center of Health™ 7/2014  For permission to reprint this article, please contact the author.


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Dr. Kadish is an unusual physician often referred to as a "doctor detective". His expertise is the evaluation and treatment of complex disorders, typically after other physicians have been stumped, is renowned. He provides care for all family members and has additional training in autistic spectrum disorders and chronic complex diseases.