By Greg Ellison
(July 30, 2020) Recently elevated bacteria counts in the St. Martin River next to the Ocean Pines Swim and Racquet Club declined by roughly 80 percent last week, after exceeding, EPA safety standards early in the month.
An enterococci bacteria test of the river just offshore of the club conducted on July 3 resulted in readings of 108.4 per milliliter, which was above EPA guidance that requires an advisory for results above 104 organisms per 100 milliliters.
The counts had improved to 86.6 per milliliter by July 10, with the most recent samples collected on July 23 reflecting a further reduction to 20 organisms per 100 milliliters.
Assateague Coastkeeper Kathy Phillips oversees weekly testing at the swim and racquet club from May 15 from Sept. 6.
Phillips works with Assateague Coastal Trust to perform weekly water quality monitoring in the St. Martin River at the club and 10 additional sites in the northern coastal bays and tributaries.
Environmental causes, such as variable weather patterns, can lead to quick shifts in water quality, Phillips said.
Since 2010, weekly water test results for enterococci bacteria levels and other water-quality parameters at bayside recreation areas have been available online through the Swim Guide.
Phillips said the beach monitoring data is also available through the Swim Guide smartphone app.
Good guidance for water recreation if bacteria levels are slightly elevated include showering with fresh water after returning to shore, Phillips said.
Spread primarily through improper hygiene, enterococci bacteria are organically occurring in gastrointestinal tracts and associated with diarrheal illness.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention the primary risk from exposure to elevated enterococci levels while swimming is contracting recreational water illnesses.
The CDC defines recreational water illnesses as diseases transferred through pools, hot tubs, water parks, and natural waterways, be it fresh or saltwater, due to germ contamination.
Symptoms typically include diarrhea, coughing, skin rashes, ear pain, congestion and eye pain.
The CDC website cautions that ingesting even a mouthful of contaminated water could cause illness.
Statistically, the CDC estimates people have on average roughly 0.14 grams of fecal matter on their bodies, which is often transferred during water-based activities.
Water safety tips from the CDC include showering prior to spending time in pools, rivers or oceans; refraining from entering the water with open wounds or if experiencing diarrhea; avoiding defecting while swimming; not swallowing water; and providing children hourly bathroom breaks.
More information about recreational water illnesses is available by visiting the CDC online at www.cdc.gov/dotw/rwis/
To download Swim Guide, visit www.theswimguide.org/get-the-app.
Weekly test results are online at theswimguide.org/affiliates/assateague-coastal-trust/