Officials compare bacteria levels in Gulf of Mexico to toilet water

ByJohn Fenoglio KTRK logo
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Officials compare bacteria levels in Gulf to toilet water
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"Swimming in a toilet" -- that's what one fire department likens taking a dip in the water along our coast right now

GALVESTON, TX (KTRK) -- "Swimming in a toilet" -- that's what one fire department likens taking a dip in the water along our coast right now.

Freeport Fire Department sent out an advisory warning of "medium" bacterial levels at Bryan Beach. In Galveston, levels tested even higher. The Galveston County Health District is now advising people to avoid swimming in some beaches altogether because of what's in the water.

"If there's that concern, then I'm also concerned. I don't want my family to get sick," said Yolanda Conrad, who had been swimming with her children most of the day.

The Conrad family is among the hundreds of people who are enjoying the surf on a hot summer day; many of them are oblivious to the orange flags that indicate the presence of an environmental hazard. The problem, many beachgoers say, is that orange flags and placards do not reveal enough information.

"I can see the flag and read the sign that says there is an air or water quality hazard, but that doesn't tell me much. They should update their signs or flags so that we know there's bacteria without having to ask a lifeguard, or have to go online once we're already at the beach," Mrs. Conrad explained.

For its part, the Galveston County Health District has put up signs and orange flags at 17 out of 52 locations where water samples revealed significantly high levels of bacteria.

Health officials measure bacteria in what are called Colony Forming Units or CFU's per 100ml. Federal standards say that anything over 104 CFU's is dangerous. Along some beaches in Galveston, bacteria levels climbed to more than 140 CFU's.

When our story first ran on Monday night, those beaches included:

On Tuesday, we were notified by the Galveston County Health District, that only three remain on the list. Those three were:

"What we want to do is give people the imformation so they can make their own decisions. For me, healthy adult, I go swimming all the time, I wouldn't worry about it. But if I had open wounds or my immune system was compromised, I'd have second thoughts," said Peter Davis, Chief of Beach Patrol.

The main concern about swimming in waters with high levels of contamination is that you could get an infection. The most common is the infection gastroentertitis. Symptoms of that include, chills, nasuea, diarrhea and fever.

Polluted water can also cause viral infections such as infectious hepatitis.

Health and environmental officials say that increased levels of bacteria are common after heavy rain storms.

Galveston health officials say that it will likely be at least several more days until the water quality improves. They say they will continue to test the water on a daily basis.

For more information about the risks of swimming in water with high levels of bacteria, check out this interactive map.