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DHS news release

April 16, 2004

Contacts: Bonnie Widerburg (503) 731-4180; Kevin Price, Parks & Recreation (503) 986-0660
Technical contacts: Cindy Gaines, DHS (503) 731-4012; Larry Caton, DEQ (503) 229-5491

Health advisories for water contact at Harris and Mill beaches in Curry County and Sunset Bay State Park in Coos County

What: Public health advisories are now in effect at Harris Beach and Mill Beach in Curry County and Sunset Bay State Park beach in Coos County due to unhealthful levels of bacterial contamination in ocean waters. The Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) is issuing the advisory in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Oregon Parks and Recreation Department.

Local residents and visitors are advised to avoid contact with waters at these beaches until the advisories are lifted. Children and the elderly in particular may be vulnerable to water-borne bacteria.

Water tests indicate unhealthful levels of Enterococci, a type of fecal bacteria, in these waters. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends the safe standard for Enterococcus to be no more than 158 colony forming units (CFUs) per 100 milliliters of marine water.

On April 13, Sunset Bay beach water tests ranged from 52 to 1,046 CFU/100 milliliters of marine water. On April 14, Harris Beach water tests ranged from less than 10 to 336 CFU/100 milliliters of marine water and Mill Beach water tests ranged from less than 10 to 345 CFU/100 milliliters of marine water.

The advisories are in effect beginning today until follow-up samples show that contamination is within safe water quality standards. A news release will be issued when the advisories are lifted.

Action:Local residents and beach visitors should take these precautions while these advisories are in effect:

• Play on the dry sand or above the high tide line instead of swimming.

• Do not wade in creeks or any area where the water is discolored.

• Stay away from storm drain water or runoff and from ocean waters where runoff flows into the ocean. Maintain a safe distance of at least 100 yards in either direction.

• Avoid swimming in the ocean within 72 hours after a rainstorm.

Background:Swimming in contaminated water can result in illnesses such as skin rashes, infections of the eyes, ears, nose and throat, and gastroenteritis. Symptoms of gastroenteritis include mild fever, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps.

Contamination sources include sewage, industrial waste discharges, storm drain runoff and domestic animal wastes. Sewage can come from failing septic systems, discharges to storm drains or cracked or blocked sewer lines. Large amounts of bird or marine mammal excrement are also sources of contamination.

Water quality is monitored at 52 beaches along the coast under the Oregon Beach Monitoring Program, funded by a grant from the EPA. Water samples are tested for the Enterococcus bacterium, a microorganism that has been shown to have a greater correlation in marine waters with swimming-associated illnesses than other bacterial organisms.

Information: For information about water quality testing, contact DEQ at (503) 229-5491. Information can also be obtained through the Beach Program at (503) 731-4012.