CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - State health officials will soon begin their seasonal monitoring of coastal water quality at South Carolina beaches.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control will test for elevated bacteria levels with the potential to impact public health beginning May 1.
Officials will collect samples from more than 120 locations along the coast either weekly or bi-weekly between May 1 and Oct. 30. The samples are then tested for elevated levels of Enterococci bacteria that can negatively impact health.
“If levels of Enterococci bacteria exceed the standard limit, we quickly issue a short-term swimming advisory for that portion of the beach to help alert beach-goers,” Bryan Rabon, Manager of Aquatic Science Programs with DHEC’s Bureau of Water, said. “A swimming advisory does not mean a beach is closed, it just means that this particular area of ocean water should be avoided until the bacteria levels return to normal. Most short-term swimming advisories last just a single day.”
The bacteria are naturally found in warm-blooded animals, but health officials say high levels can indicate a potential risk for other organisms that may cause disease in humans.
Health officials issue two types of swimming advisories. Short-term advisories that usually last one or two days after two consecutive samples have exceeded state standards and long-term advisories in areas where stormwater from pipes and small creeks flow across the beach and into the ocean.
“We don’t always know the cause of the increase in bacteria in a certain area because there could be various contributing factors, however, it’s our job as South Carolina’s public health and environmental agency to keep people up to date on bacterial counts in ocean water,” Rabon said. “It’s considered safe to wade, collect shells and fish within a swimming advisory area, but we advise people who enter the water in an affected area to refrain from swallowing it, and we advise people with open wounds or compromised immune systems to avoid contact with the water in a swim advisory area.”
More information on DHEC’s beach monitoring process and site-by-site results can be found here.
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