Right before the holiday weekend, several Connecticut beaches were closed due to high bacteria levels detected in the water. After ongoing testing, these beaches eventually reopened one by one, allowing swimmers back into the water as acceptable readings were finally reached.
On July 11, the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP) released a report that stated there were no beaches closed due to high bacteria levels, encouraging residents to get back out into the water. However, only one day later, two beaches in Bridgeport closed again for poor water quality, with swimming areas in Waterbury following days after.
CT Beaches Are Getting Worse!
This summer, Connecticut residents have had an extremely hard time finding beaches deemed safe to swim in on a regular basis. High bacteria levels are constantly prohibiting swimmers from enjoying local swimming areas and causing a great deal of frustration for residents, particularly when the temperatures are high. The cleanliness of our water has been a serious health concern for years and the high rate of beach closures this season alone is not proving that conditions are getting any better.
Why CT Beaches Close
Beach closures in Connecticut are determined by DEEP based on water testing results that reveal levels of indicator bacteria in the water…also known as fecal contamination. As disturbing as it sounds, bacteria from fecal matter is constantly breeding in the water we swim in but is not always at a concentration which would cause significant health risks. DEEP begins testing for these bacteria levels the week prior to Memorial Day to monitor safe swimming conditions throughout the summer, ending after Labor Day weekend, while municipal beaches are tested by local health departments to determine safe bacteria levels.
In a 2016 report published by Save the Sound, several Connecticut beaches showed increased bacteria levels just from the previous year. Findings also showed contaminated waters were directly linked to the surrounding communities, listing the most common reasons for water contamination as:
- Sewer line leaks (municipal and private)
- Aging or failing septic systems and cesspools
- Polluted runoff from rain containing fecal matter and other pollutants from streets, parks, farms, wildlife, etc.
- Polluted tributary streams, rivers, and creeks
- Wildlife waste on the beaches or nearby on the property
- Sewage overflows from cities with combined sewer and stormwater pipes where raw sewer can bypass treatment plants.
Heavy rainfall is one of the biggest culprits for elevating bacteria levels, sweeping massive amounts of untreated waste and pollution straight into lakes, rivers, and oceans. Beach closures are common after heavy rainfalls since the bacteria has not yet dispersed throughout the body of water, which is why most Connecticut beaches have swimming advisories after storms.
Other Reasons For Beach Closings
Fecal contamination is not the only health threat to swimmers in Connecticut. DEEP, local health departments, and coastal health officials also monitor invasive species and ocean debris that could cause significant health risks to beachgoers:
- Algal Blooms: Algal Blooms are dense populations of algae that can form in coastal waters (red tides) or in lakes and ponds (blue/green) and cause health risks to animals and humans if inhaled or ingested.
- Ocean Debris: Litter in the ocean is becoming a huge threat to wildlife and to the health and safety of swimmers. Plastic, metal, rubber, paper, and other ocean trash seeping chemicals into the water can cause health conditions including skin irritations, or gastrointestinal issues.
Health Risks of Dirty Water
Temperatures in Connecticut have reached above 90 degrees frequently this summer and temptations have been high to ignore swimming advisories on local beaches. However, swimming in waters with high bacteria levels can be extremely dangerous, especially for at-risk populations, and can result in acquiring some downright unpleasant illnesses in return.
The most common beach related illness highlighted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is gastroenteritis. Symptoms of this condition include:
Other minor illnesses could include infections in the ear, nose, and throat. People with weakened immune systems such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women may be at a higher risk of harm if contracting bacteria from dirty water. Swimmers who have open wounds are also at risk of developing infections that could result in a severe or even fatal illness.
How To Detect Poor Water Quality
To determine if your local beach is safe to swim in before your beach day, DEEP provides an updated State Swimming Area Water Quality Report showing residents which beaches are open or closed and for what reason. Save the Sound also provides a Sound Health Explorer showing bacteria levels and beach quality reports dating back to 2004.
If you’re already at the beach and you’re just not sure about the water, the Better Health Channel suggests looking for signs of poor water quality and following these safety precautions before taking a risky swim:
- Take a look at the water to see if you can see obvious signs of pollution before you swim.
- Avoid swimming in local bodies of water after storms or heavy rainfall (one day in coastal waters and up to three days in rivers or lakes).
- Do not swim in water that is warm or stagnant.
- Avoid water that is murky, discolored, or smells unpleasant.
- Don’t swim in water that drains activity flow directly into.
- Always adhere to advisory signs regarding water quality.
- Avoid swimming if you see sick or dead marine life.
- Don’t swim with open wounds, infections, or if you are experiencing diarrhea or vomiting.
Fighting Against Beach Illnesses in CT
It is up to city, state, and coastal officials to appropriately monitor the water quality in Connecticut swimming areas and report to the public if there are elevated health risks. If you or a loved one has suffered a serious beach illness caused by a body of water that was deemed ‘safe to swim’, Jacobs & Wallace is here to fight for you. Contact our amazing team of personal injury lawyers for a free case review to see what compensation you might be eligible for to cover damages suffered from your illness.