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Irene possible cause for three beach closings in Scituate

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  August 31, 2011 02:51 PM

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Irene may have claimed another victim in Scituate, this time the waters themselves.

Three beaches were closed in Scituate today due to excessively high bacteria counts. Minot was tested for 1401 bacteria colonies per 100 milliliters of water, Egypt Beach tested for 1,722 colonies, and Sandhills had 496.

Lighthouse and Peggotty will remain open, with counts of 85 and 86, respectively. Humarock maintained a level of 10 bacteria per 100ml.

According to the town’s website, beaches that receive a single test reading above 104 are closed until a clean test result comes back.

Although the counts are excessively high, especially for Minot and Egypt, which have not been problematic all summer, the causes of the problem are yet unknown.

“Sandhills has an unusually high putrid amount of seaweed. But [for the others] we don’t know yet. It’s too early to tell. We’ll have a better idea after we’ve done the resampling, which we just finished,” said Jennifer Sullivan, director of the Scituate Department of Public Health.

The most likely cause is the Irene, Sullivan said. Oftentimes in a big storm, particles from land and offshore get swept into the sea, causing bacteria counts to spike.

If the resampling tomorrow shows more normal presence of bacteria, there most likely isn’t a larger looming problem.

If bacteria in samples do not reduce by tomorrow, it’s possible the hurricane may have hit an underground sewage pipe or caused more significant damage.

“Right now, my consideration is storm related,” Sullivan said. “As we continue testing, we’ll see if that holds true or not, but that’s what I think…

“We haven’t fostered a plan yet, so we’ll wait and see. Everything costs money, but we do have money for testing, so we’re doing expanding testing on Sandhills and we will continue with that as days go by,” she said.

Although this was the last week of scheduled testing for the beaches, Sandhills, which was closed several times this summer because of high bacteria counts, will receive testing for the next couple of weeks to ensure there is no larger problem.

Additionally, tests will be conducted for Minot and Egypt beaches until bacteria counts come back clean.

Before this summer, the only other beach with bacteria levels this high was Humarock, which tested at 410 cfu per 100/ml in 2003 for the week of June 25. Even then, the beach wasn’t closed for a week.

This summer, Sand Hills has been shut down five times due to excessive bacteria counts. Lighthouse was also closed with a count of 379 cfu/100ml the week of Aug. 17.

Neither of these recent counts is equal to Sand Hills that week, which had a result of 2,723 cfu/100 ml, the highest count recorded in the last decade.

According to the town’s website, beach operators must test all public ocean beaches for bacteria each week from June until Labor Day, using the enterococcus indicator organism. Testing is done more frequently if there is an indication of excessive bacteria.

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