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Healthy beaches makes for happy people

From May through September, Kitsap County’s Health Department will be monitoring bacteria levels at several local saltwater beaches.

In 2002, the Beach Environmental Assessment Communication and Health Program or BEACH was implemented in order to monitor harmful bacteria that is dangerous to humans in the saltwater of recreational beaches. The program is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The pilot program began last summer with a total of six beaches being monitored. This year, 14 beaches in Kitsap County will be monitored for bacteria once a week. If bacteria is found in the water, the public will be notified by signs which will be posted on the beach. If high bacteria samples continue to be found, the beaches will be closed. Fish and other sea life can still be eaten, even if caught in water where bacteria is found, as long as they are cooked thoroughly.

Results of the bacteria tests will be posted on the Internet at www.doh.wa.gov/beach, so that the public may check for bacteria levels before heading out to the beach.

“People can stay safe if they pay attention to the posted warning signs. The overall success of this program depends on whether or not people pay attention to those warnings” said environmental health specialist Shawn Ultican, who has been with the Kitsap County Health Department for 10 years.

The success of the program also depends on volunteers, which the Kitsap County-Bremerton Health Department is now recruiting. The two main factors that determine which beaches are monitored are if they are a public beach where people tend to be and if there is a nearby source of pollution such as a stormwater drain.

The program will monitor for bacteria which show the possibility of pollution from sewage treatment plant problems, malfunctioning septic systems, and boating and animal waste.

Symptoms of contact with bacteria ridden water include vomiting, diarrhea, stomachache, ear, eye and skin infections. A total of 72 Puget Sound and Pacific beaches will be monitored this summer. For more information on becoming a volunteer with the BEACH Program, contact Shawn Ultican at 337-5622.

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