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Study: Sticking to the sand might not be such good, clean fun for beachgoers

as high enough to cause a beach advisory. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a single sample of marine water containing more than 104 enterococci bacteria per 100 milliliters is unsafe to swim in. Boehm found 120 enterococci per 100 milliliters during the flood tide at Lovers Point, a beach that earns an "A" grade for water quality from Heal the Bay, a nonprofit environmental organization.

The beaches that Boehm and her team included in their study represented a variety of natural and anthropogenic factors, from sand grain size to surrounding human development. And after analyzing the different sand samples and variables, they found that enterococci densities were higher at beaches with a significant degree of surrounding human development.

More specifically, at Lovers Point, the researchers tested for traces of human-specific genetic markers in the bacteria and indeed found that the enterococci most likely came from people.

"Some researchers have found that enterococci grow in the sand, that they occur naturally. So it's not linked to fecal input," Boehm said. "But in this case, we looked closely at Lovers Point, and there were actually signatures of human waste."

In fact, Boehm recalled a storm drain at Lovers Point that was almost 250 feet away from the research site on the beach. During heavy rains, sewage systems can get overwhelmed and result in untreated sewage flowing directly out to sea.

"When we were at Lovers Point doing this experiment, there was a baby sitting in the sand, and she was literally eating the sand," Boehm said. "You have to wonder if that's a health threat."


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Contact: Michael Pea
michael.pena@stanford.edu
650-725-4275
Stanford University
7-Aug-2007


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