RALEIGH - State environmental health officials today advise that once conditions are safe to do so in areas that received excessive amounts of rainfall following Hurricane Earl, the public should take precautions when swimming in coastal and sound-side waters, as excessive rains, flooding and storm surges from Hurricane Earl can increase levels of bacteria in the water.
“Waters impacted by Hurricane Earl can contain elevated levels of bacteria that can make people sick,” said J.D. Potts, manager of the N.C. Recreational Water Quality Program. “Floodwaters and stormwater runoff can contain pollutants such as waste from septic systems, sewer line breaks, wildlife, petroleum products and other chemicals. People should avoid swimming near stormwater outfalls and inlets as these areas tend to have concentrated amounts of pollutants.”
While state officials do not have laboratory confirmation that elevated bacteria are in the water, there is an increased chance that contamination is present in impacted waters, and that those swimming have an increased chance of adverse health effects.
The N.C. Recreational Water Quality Program in the Division of Environmental Health will test coastal waters in areas with substantial rainfall or flooding from Hurricane Earl. If the testing indicates high levels of bacteria, program staff will issue swimming advisories for the affected areas.
The program samples 240 sites at ocean and sound beaches weekly from April to October in accordance with federal and state laws. Enterococci, the bacteria group used for testing, are found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. While the bacteria group does not cause illness itself, scientific studies indicate that enterococci may indicate the presence of other disease-causing organisms.
For more information about coastal recreational water quality, visit the N.C. Recreational Water Quality Program’s website at: http://www.deh.enr.state.nc.us/shellfish/Water_Monitoring/RWQweb/index.htm or on Twitter.com @ncrecprgm. For more hurricane-related tips, visit http://www.deh.enr.state.nc.us/storminfo.htm.