bathiing beaches

Why is the Beach Closed?

beach ballWhy is the beach closed?

The beach is probably closed because monitoring conducted by the Illinois Department of Public Health or its agents determined that bacteria levels exceed those established in the Swimming Pool and Bathing Beach Code (235 colony forming units [cfu] of E. coli per 100 milliliters of water is the level at which closing is required). The beach may be closed because the operator voluntarily closed the beach following a heavy rainfall or known incident that may have contaminated the water.

beach ballWhat is E. coli?

Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria live in the digestive systems of humans and other warm blooded animals. Therefore, they are found in sewage and other wastewater. Most strains are not harmful, but some are, and they can indicate the presence of other disease-causing bacteria.

beach ballWhy are beaches monitored by the Illinois Department of Public Health?

To protect the public’s health, the Department requires that each of the licensed public beaches in Illinois be sampled every two weeks. Unless the local health department collects the samples, the beach operator is required to sample the beach water in the shallow and deep areas every two weeks. Samples are sent to a Department laboratory for analysis. If the results exceed the Department’s limits, the risk of illness increases and the beach is required to be closed.

beach ballWhen will the beach re-open?

Factors such as natural die-off, wind and wave action, and ultraviolet light from the sun will help to reduce the level of bacteria. The length of time this takes is unpredictable; however, it is usually less than 24 hours.

The water needs to be resampled and the samples from both the shallow and deep areas must be below 235 cfu of E. coli/100 ml. before the beach will be allowed to re-open. It takes 24 hours after receipt of the samples to determine the bacteria levels.

beach ballHow do the bacteria get in the water?

There are a variety of sources that contribute bacteria to surface water:

  • Illegal sewer connections to storm sewers or roadside ditches, or direct discharges to the lake
  • Malfunctioning sewage disposal systems
  • Combined and sanitary sewer overflows
  • Storm runoff following a rain
  • Wild and domestic animal waste
  • Agricultural runoff
  • Bather defecation

beach ballWhat type of illness can you get from swimming in contaminated water?

Gastroenteritis type illness is the most common, with symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache and low grade fever. Skin rashes and earaches also may be experienced.

beach ballIs it necessary to report any illness that might be associated with the use of the beach?

Yes, the beach manager should be notified if you become sick after swimming at the beach. Managers are required to report illnesses to the Illinois Department of Public Health for investigation. Early notification can prevent hundreds of additional people from becoming ill.

beach ballHow do I know if the beach water is safe?

No one can guarantee the quality of natural bodies of water. The minimal sampling that the Department conducts indicates the water quality only on the particular day the sample was collected and at that specific location. Those sample results are not usually known until two days after the sample was collected. The Department recommends not entering the water if it is very murky or turbid, if it has an odor or if there has been a heavy rainfall within the past 24 hours. Beach patrons should not drink the water and should not enter the water if they have any open sores or skin infections, or are experiencing diarrhea.

beach ballWhat can I do to assure the best water quality at the beach?

While some contamination may occur by nature and cannot be controlled, there are several things that beach patrons can do to assure the best water quality:

  • Be sure infants wear tight fitting rubber or plastic pants if they enter the beach water.
  • Do not encourage water fowl by feeding ducks or geese.
  • Encourage children to use the toilets frequently.

beach ballIs there a way I can determine if the beach is closed without going there?

You may wish to call the facility before you go, or you can check on the Bathing Beaches section on the Department’s Web site.

idph online home
Environmental Health Home

Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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