Recent Yale University graduate Lauren Brooks put on her waders this morning and daringly charged into the waters of to collect two samples for bacteria-level testing. The beach has been since Saturday at noon due to heightened bacteria levels, reported Alex Cinotti, Assistant Director for East Shore District Health Department. The bacteria levels, which are acceptable around 104, said Cinotti, came back after a recent test, as high as 190 and 450.
Though there’s a lot of speculation about what causes the higher bacteria level, today’s testing is not just a result of this recent spike – it’s something Brooks has been researching over the last two years as an extension of her thesis which explored contamination in area waters. Receiving her masters degree in environmental science in May, Brooks is working with Yale to continue her post-graduate studies as well as with ESDHD by the support of multiple grants (water contamination and shellfish consumption grants).
Brooks tests 11 bodies of water every Monday for bacteria levels: two coves at East Haven Town Beach; Cedar Lake and Linsley Lake in North Branford; and Turtle Bay, Lamphier’s Cove, Sunrise Cove, Clarke Avenue Beach, Hotchkiss Grove Beach, and Branford Point in Branford.
Branford Point is the only beach this year, said Brooks, which has shown higher bacteria levels and has been closed.
According to the National Resource Defense Council Branford Point’s swimming area came back as exceeding state standards 28 percent of the time in 2010 when sampled once a week. "NRDC looked at the percent of monitoring samples that exceeded the state’s daily
maximum bacterial standards," the organization stated in their 2010 report. "In 2010, 11 percent of all reported beach monitoring samples exceeded the state's daily maximum bacterial levels." You can read more about their testing in the PDF found on their website.
Mother to two boys, Branford resident Michelle Snider came to the beach this morning to let her boys crab and catch minnows. Upon learning that the water was not safe for swimming, she allowed her sons to chase the geese and then packed up her beach bag. Destined for Stony Creek Beach at first, Snider then changed her mind and decided she would visit the splash pad in East Haven (both of Branford's other public beaches, Stony Creek Beach and Clark Avenue Beach are both open for swimming as usual).
Snider explained that she had let her sons, 2 and 5, swim at Branford Point Saturday morning before the beach was closed. She was worried that her sons could be sickened. Cinotti explained that victims of the bacteria, should any have been ingested, could have gastro-intestinal disturbance with symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea but nothing that is life threatening. If you have come in contact with the contaminated waters, symptoms would be present after six to 12 hours, said Cinotti.
If you asked anyone sun bathing on the beach today, they would have told you the source of the bacteria is the plethora of geese as well as the Branford sewage treatment plant up the nearby Branford River.
The geese who were in a flock of about a dozen along the shore this morning are not the sole concern, said Cinotti and Brooks. For geese to be the issue at Branford Point the numbers would have to be about two to three times what they usually are.
While it’s easy to blame definitive sources, Brooks said that the bacteria found at Branford Point in the past two years is the result of a combination of many factors including both human and animal contaminates.
Rainwater run-off, added Cinotti, is usually to blame for heightened bacteria levels. The local sewer run-off, said Cinotti, which carries pet waste and human contaminates, can contribute to bacteria levels.
"Typically after heavy rains, the bacteria counts will be elevated, typically excessively elevated and we have to close. When it’s that one burst of rainfall, it flushes everything out into the waters and it can be a problem,” he said.
The town sewage treatment plant, however, said Cinotti, has nothing to do with the bacteria level. “The Branford sewage treatment plant,” he said, “has a federally approved disinfection system using UV lights that really knock out bacteria levels. That’s something the DEP and the state department of public health recognize as an effective sewage treatment plant.” Brooks added that the plant has to submit levels daily and if there were concerns, they would be evident instantly.
Judy DeCaprio, a Branford resident who frequents Branford Point, was reading a book this morning, sitting in a low beach chair, halfway in the water. When told that the beach was closed to swimmers due to heightened bacteria levels, she stood up like a shot to remove herself from the water. She wanted to know why the beach closure wasn’t announced. There are two signs on the backs of lifeguard chairs indicating the temporary closure of the beach but other than that, ESDHD is not sure what the best way to get the message out is. Cinotti is looking for suggestions; please e-mail them to email@example.com.
The two water samples taken today from Branford Point will be processed in Hartford at the state lab and results will be available by Tuesday around 1 to 2 p.m. Check back on Branford Patch to find out if the beach will be re-opened.