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Beachgoers Beware: Fecal Contamination In Sand

Going to the beach? Watch out for all the cr*p in the sand . . . literally. According to a study recently published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the sand at that beach may have more germs in it than the water.


Read about the sand before you take that next romantic walk along the beach/Image: TripSmarter

An investigative team from the University Of Hawaii at Manoa analyzed both sand and water from numerous Hawaiian beaches and discovered a “higher abundance” of bacteria revealing fecal contamination such as E. coli in the sand than in the seawater. Team leader Tao Yan noted that “wastewater-contaminated marine beach sand may act as a chronic source of wastewater bacteria to the beach seawater.”

Health officials have known for quite some time that wastewater from sewage as well as other additional sources can contaminate ocean water thus requiring beach closures. They have also known that people who swim in the ocean and accidentally swallow “fecal-contaminated” seawater

Public health experts have long known that wastewater from sewage and other sources can contaminate seawater, some days necessitating beach closures. People who accidentally swallow or otherwise come in contact fecal-contaminated ocean water can contract diarrhea, rashes and/or stomachache. In the past ten years, however, the research group reports that the fecal bacteria levels in beach sand have been between 10 to 100 times higher than in the adjacent ocean water.

The researchers designed laboratory simulations of sewage-contaminated beaches and ocean water in order to learn why “bacterial populations” such as fecal bacteria that bring on sickness change over a period of time. They retrieved sand samples from the island of Oahu’s Kualoa Beach approximately one and a half feet from the high-tide line.

The team of scientists determined that bacteria generally decayed at a significantly slower rate in the sand than in the ocean. This could be the reason why there is more fecal material in the sand than in the nearby ocean.

The new data indicates that bacteria from waste water can become embedded in “biofilms” within the beach sand that “provide shelter” to various bacteria. The beach sand also provides these germs from sunlight which stunts the growth of bacteria. Shallow seawater, however, provides the germs with no shelter from the sunlight. Yan concludes: “Beach sand needs to be considered carefully in assessing its impact on water quality monitoring and public health.”

Beachgoers Beware: Fecal Contamination In Sand

About Will Phoenix

W. Scott Phoenix, B.A., B.S. was born in Hawaii, raised in Pennsylvania and resides in California. He has been a published writer since 1978. His work has appeared (under various names) in numerous places in print and online including Examiner.com. He is a single parent of three children and has also worked as an actor, singer and teacher. He has been employed by such publications as the Daily Collegian and the Los Angeles Times.