Local beaches are clean and present little risk, VDH says

by Sherry Hamilton - Posted on Jul 17, 2013 - 01:30 PM

Photo: The Ramadhan family of New York, from left, Aben, Kameron, April, and Keyara, were vacationing in Mathews this week and were delighted to discover Festival Beach in Diggs. “He likes peaceful and we like the beach,” said April Ramadhan. “Mathews is the perfect compromise.” Festival Beach and Gloucester Point Beach are two of the many beaches in Virginia that had high water quality in recent tests. Photo by Sherry Hamilton

The Ramadhan family of New York, from left, Aben, Kameron, April, and Keyara, were vacationing in Mathews this week and were delighted to discover Festival Beach in Diggs. “He likes peaceful and we like the beach,” said April Ramadhan. “Mathews is the perfect compromise.” Festival Beach and Gloucester Point Beach are two of the many beaches in Virginia that had high water quality in recent tests. Photo by Sherry Hamilton

Swimming at local beaches this year should present little to no health risk, according to information on the Virginia Department of Health’s beach monitoring website.

The water quality standard for Virginia public beaches calls for closure of beaches when water tests show bacteria levels above the benchmark of 104 CFUs (colony forming units) of bacteria per milliliter of sea water. Festival Beach in Mathews, Gloucester Point Beach, and Yorktown Beach all had levels of fewer than 10 CFUs per milliliter in tests conducted earlier this month.

As a matter of fact, most of Virginia’s 46 Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean beaches that are monitored weekly tested low on bacteria in their most recent tests, with readings ranging anywhere from 4 CFUs/ml to 63 CFUs/ml. Several beaches have had high readings in past weeks and had swimming advisories temporarily posted, but all beaches are currently open.

The bacteria that is tested for—enterococci bacteria—"serves as an indicator for fecal contamination in salt and brackish waters," says the health department website. Although not harmful themselves, the organisms "indicate that other potentially harmful organisms may be present" and represent "an increased health risk to recreational water users."

But not to worry. For now, at least, those enterococci aren’t thriving, so residents can head down to a local beach and take a break from the heat by cooling off in those clean local waters.