Federal study will track beach health issues

BAY VILLAGE, Ohio (AP) - Federal researchers will begin a study Saturday to monitor Lake Erie's water quality at Huntington Beach, located 13 miles west of Cleveland.

The study will track the health of visitors afterwards for any signs of illness.

The research is part of a national study of the links between water pollution, swimming and health, according to the sponsoring U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Researchers will test new laboratory technology that gives same-day results about the possible presence of harmful pathogens in the water. With present technology, health officials must wait 24 hours before they learn whether water is too polluted for swimming.

"If you can test quickly, then in a few hours you can say if the water is safe to swim in, or it's not," said Kristen Brenner, an environmental microbiologist with the EPA's National Exposure Research Laboratory in Cincinnati.

Researchers chose Huntington because it is nearly a half-mile long and drew 180,000 visitors last year.

Huntington also faces several potential sources of possible contamination: a drain pipe near the beach dumps storm water into Lake Erie and nearby Porter and Cahoon creeks, which also could carry contamination, empty into the lake near the beach.

Health officials have posted unsafe water warnings nine times this year at Huntington, located below tree-line cliffs.

Huntington is the second Great Lakes beach the EPA has chosen to study. Researchers also are studying Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore's West Beach near Chicago.

The EPA will have about 20 interviewers posted at the beach who will ask a few basic questions when visitors arrive and leave, such as how long they were at the beach and whether they swallowed any water.

Researchers also will follow up 10 to 12 days later to see if beachgoers came down with any illness or symptoms.

Cleveland Metroparks, which operates Huntington Reservation and its beach, will extend its swimming season, spokeswoman Jane Christyson said. The beach was set to close Aug. 17 but will remain open until Sept. 14 on weekends.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)