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Sand at nation's beaches can carry bacteria

Apr 12th, 2012
Staff Writer

Sandy Beaches - Harmful?Sandy, warm beaches are top destinations for Americans as spring segues into summer. But recent research shows that even lovely looking beaches are blanketed with bacteria that can be harmful.

Scientists at the University of Miami and Northern Illinois University measured levels of microbes in sand to develop guidelines to assess the risk of illness from sand exposure. They ran 1 million simulations of the number of microbes in each gram of sand, the transfer of sand from hand to mouth and the ingestion rate. Based on those calculations, researchers were able to determine the risk of having 19 cases per 1,000 beachgoers -- the level used by the EPA for swimming in marine recreational waters.

"These values can be used by beach managers to make decisions concerning sand quality," said the leading author of the study, Helena Solo-Gabriele, a professor in the leading author of the study, Helena Solo-Gabriele, a professor in the department of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at the University of Miami College of Engineering and principal investigator of the project. "That way, when regulators are faced with a decision about a potential health risk, there is a guideline available with which to decide whether or not the levels of microbes found in the sand are cause for concern."

Dogs, birds and cats visiting a beach are common sources of bacteria in the sand.

"Exposures to high levels of certain microorganisms could cause gastrointestinal illness in humans, while infectious risks vary in different microorganism," said Tomoyuki Shibata, an   assistant professor in the public health program and Institute for the Study of the Environment, Sustainability, & Energy, at Northern Illinois University and the first author of the study.

While going to be the beach is typically safe, it's important to wash your hands before eating or drinking while at the beach.

The report is published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science &Technology