Hennepin County Continues to Test Public Beaches for Contamination

Updated: 06/17/2014 7:39 AM
Created: 06/16/2014 7:52 PM
By: Beth McDonough

Anytime there's rain, there's likely going to be runoff at some of Hennepin County's 31 public beaches.  The runoff could contaminate the water, and if swallowed it could make beach goers sick.

Every Monday, crews test the waters to make sure they're safe. That's a relief to the Tabner family visiting Wayzata Beach because there's no stopping 7-year-old Walker Tabner or his buddies from splashing around.

"Even if you tell them to do certain things, they of course are going to do what they shouldn't do, so they need to test it very frequently," Kate Tabner said.

Staffers from the Hennepin County Public Health Department wade into knee-high water to collect samples in plastic bottles and temporarily store them, then the samples make their way from the beach to a lab for testing and analysis. 

Experts say E. coli is the biggest threat.

"It could cause serious illness if they're at levels above the acceptable EPA standards," said Amanda Buelll, an environmentalist with Hennepin County. 

If high levels of E. coli are detected, the county recommends closing the contaminated beach to protect the public from getting sick. So far this year, three beaches have been closed in Mound, Shorewood and Deephaven -- one of them twice.

The Health Department says unusually warm water, animal droppings, sewage discharge, bacteria from soil, runoff and rainfall are cause for concern.

"After the rain, we see fertilizer, all that pollution going into the storm drain ending up at the beach," Buell said.

As of Monday, all 31 beaches were open.  Some will be re-tested Wednesday after the rainfall.

Some communities including Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Bloomington, Plymouth and Three Rivers Park District test their own beaches. 

The Centers for Disease Control says to prevent getting sick, wait 24 hours after a heavy rainfall before swimming, shower after a day at the beach, don't swallow water and don’t swim if you're sick. Parents should also be sure to take kids on frequent bathroom breaks, and if a child is still in diapers put rubber or plastic pants on them as well.

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