A vacation on the coast may seem like a good idea, but the population is warned that health threats lie within the sands for beachgoers. It’s not just the water that can be contaminated, but the sandy beaches as well, with harmful bacteria hiding among the smooth crushed glass and unclaimed oyster shells.
If you haven’t already been put on alert by sunscreen ads speaking loudly about melanoma or heard of the possible dangers of jellfyfish and stingrays, a new study at the University of Hawaii will add to the reasons why you should be cautious this summer before venturing out to the beach.
The problem of contamination within the wild waters of the seas and oceans has been well known, but the sands have proven to be even more perilous. With the use of fecal bacteria indicators, the researchers observed a higher abundance of toxic wastewater in beach sands than in the waves coming to shore.
Fecal coliform bacteria is the most common microorganism found in natural waters, which is commonly used as an indicator for organic pollution. As its name implies, it is found in the excrements of humans or warm-blood animals. The presence of fecal coliform bateria might suggest the nearby existence of other, more harmful pathogenic bacteria that could be hazardous to your health.
While some could be virtually harmless, others can lead to ear infections, hepatitis A, typhoid or the more unlikely diseases of gastroenteritis, dysentery or cholera. While fecal coliform bateria might be found in most waters, there is a degree to which it becomes dangerous. For example, while it’s harmless for a certain amount of it to be found in swimming waters, any amount of the bacteria is unacceptable and very dangerous in drinking water.
Due to heavy storms and floods, contaminated sewage waters make their way to the beach, infecting both the water and the sand alike, but recent studies have found that the latter provides longer life for fecal bacteria.
Researchers at the university have conducted a study by simulating both environments. They created two microcosms, one with seawater and another with beach sand, contaminating both with fecal bacteria in order to observe its evolution throughout time.
Soon enough, they observed that fecal coliform bateria decays much slower within the sand than the waves, and it’s suggested that the occurrence is similar outside the simulation. So not only the bacteria can be found 10 to 100 times more frequently in beach sand, but it also lives much longer than it does in seawater.
‘No swimming’ signs are already placed on beaches after floods or heavy rains due to the amount of pollution carried down from the dirtied streets and sewage systems, but perhaps ‘No laying down’ signs should be made in follow-up to the research.
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