Lewes, Broadkill, and Slaughter beaches are under water advisory, according to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC). Researchers from the department’s Recreational Water Program have reported high levels of fecal bacteria. The Delaware beaches will remain under advisory until tests confirm that bacterial levels have returned to normal.
Each week and after heavy rains, researchers from the Recreational Water Program take samples of water near swimming beaches to test for enterococcus and other potential sources of pollution. DNREC employees collect water samples, which are then cultured in a laboratory and tested for the presence of bacteria. They then estimate the concentration of the bacteria to determine whether it is over the federally mandated safe limit for beachgoers.
The current testing tool has been used for over 75 years and although the turnaround time for results is not immediate, it provides relatively quick and accurate results. Recent testing of Delaware’s recreational waters revealed a presence of fecal contamination.
An environmental scientist at the DNREC explains that enterococcus is a bacterium that grows in the guts of all warm-blooded animals, such as migratory shore birds. Often, high levels of this type of bacteria is due to an influx of seagulls defecating along the Delaware coast. According to the scientist, enterococcus itself does not make people sick. Rather, the bacterium can lead to gastrointestinal illness, particularly in vulnerable groups like the young, old, or weak. Most people in good health will not experience negative health effects from swimming in water where higher levels of bacteria are detected.
Other tests must be conducted to determine whether the fecal matter is human, which would pose a much higher health risk than if the feces came from wildlife sources. A few decades ago, people visiting beaches near sewage plants became sick from ingesting human-based bacteria. However, according to a scientist at the University of Delaware’s pollution ecology laboratory in Lewes, that is unlikely to happen today given the increased levels of treatment and sterilization of sewage system water.
Exposure to pollutants in water can lead to several health issues, including gastrointestinal illness, dermatitis, nerve damage, and cardiovascular problems. Federal legislation, such as the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, are designed to protect people from exposure to contaminated water. Companies, as well as other responsible parties that do not comply with the legislation, may be held liable in a toxic tort claim.
If you believe your illness was caused by exposure to contaminants in beach water or the water you use at your home, contact a Wilmington environmental lawyer at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. We proudly represent clients in Dover, New Castle County, and Sussex County from our offices in Georgetown and Wilmington, Delaware. For a free consultation, please complete our online contact form or call us at 302-656-5445.