On hot summer days thousands cool off in New Jersey’s waters, but not this college student. She looks like she going for a dip, but she’s sampling water to ensure it’s safe for swimmers.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand that we do this. A lot of people take it for granted, you know, there’s a beach let’s go swimming. But there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes,” said Public Information Officer of Ocean County Department of health Brian Lippia.
These Ocean County Department of Health samplers are monitoring recreational beach water quality. It’s called the New Jersey Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program and is administered by the state Department of Environmental Protection. They coordinate inspections with participating health agencies. Samplers first grab an empty bottle, then they check the water temperature and wade through the water about waist deep.
“They reach the bottle under the surface, open the lid under the surface and then tilt the bottle to let the air come out and the water fill it to the 100 mL line that’s marked on the bottle,” said Ocean County Health Department Assistant Public Health Coordinator Matthew Csik.
What’s the reason for that kind of methodology?
“Well because the standards for water quality with regard to bacteria in New Jersey is the number of colonies, or colony forming units of bacteria, per 100 mL, so it’s very important to get a very standard sample at every site,” he said.
Csik says the bacteria usually comes from water fowl in the immediate area or other wildlife and storm water runoff. Swimmers exposed to the bacteria could experience symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea. It can also cause ear and eye infections.
The Ocean County Health Department begins sampling two weeks before Memorial Day through Labor Day. Every Monday they test ocean, river and bay beaches and each Tuesday they test lake and creek beaches. It’s a total of more than 70 sites.
What do they look for? “In salt water or brackish water we’re looking for enterococcus, which is a bacteria that grows in the gastrointestinal tract of most warm blooded animals. But, in lakes we look for total fecal coliform, which still has a relation to that, but it’s just a different organism because of the fresh water,” said Csik.
The samplers take the bottles back to the certified lab where they are tested. The results come back 24 hours later and are posted online. If an initial sampling exceeds the state standard for the bacteria, a swimming advisory is posted. If two consecutive results exceed the state’s standards, the beach is closed until the bacteria levels are below the standard. Ocean County has had no beach closings this season, says Csik. Swimmer Joanne Dadario is grateful the water is monitored.
“It makes me feel great because I love this lake,” said Dadario.
“This is one of those very satisfying programs. You’re on the front line,” said Csik.
As folks continue to enjoy a refreshing swim this summer, health agencies will continue to collects thousands of samples.