ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
Summer is still three weeks away, but an all-too-familiar aspect of it, high bacteria levels at Lake Shore Park’s beach, is already with us.
Anthony Paneto, head lifeguard at the beach, said the high bacteria levels were posted Saturday and remained in place throughout the holiday weekend.
According to the Web site, www.odh.ohio.gov, most Lake Erie
beaches are sampled four times a week during the swimming season for the presence of E. coli bacteria, which can cause illness. When the amount of bacteria exceeds state standards, beaches are posted with warning signs advising people not to swim in the water.
On May 27, the most recent date for which data was available, Lake Shore Park’s E. coli account was 345. At Conneaut Township Park, the count was 112; at Geneva State Park, 24; and at Walnut Beach, 11.
The water at Lake Shore Park is enclosed by a series of breakwalls, which limits the amount of refreshing that can occur, said Jarod Artman, a lifeguard there. The presence of Canada geese and their droppings on the beach add to the problem.
Paneto said visitors to the beach this weekend seemed to be ignoring the warnings.
“I’ve been here three years and (Sunday) was one of the most packed days we’ve ever seen. It seems like people didn’t care about the bad bacteria levels,” Paneto said.
While the crowd was relatively thin on Monday morning, parents were not terribly concerned about allowing their children to play in the chilly water.
“I noticed it, but I’m not real concerned about it,” said Heath Maki, who was at the beach with his wife and step-children.
Several of the mothers who came to the beach with their children Monday morning said they didn’t notice the warnings on the three signs posted at the entrance to the beach. Ron Shupp said he was so accustomed to seeing the warnings last year, he figured they had not been updated for 2010.
“I thought it was left over from last year because it was up all winter,” said Shupp as he watched his three daughters and wife swim.
Vicki Metz, who lives in Greenville, Pa., brought her daughter and her daughter’s friend to Metz’s hometown Monday so they could see the beach she enjoyed as a child. She was disappointed in what she saw.
“When I read the sign, I was very unhappy,” she said. “I told them don’t swallow the water. I’m not too happy.”
The life guards say they try to warn the swimmers of the dangers, but most people go ahead and swim in it.
“We inform everyone when they come down here ‘Don’t let your kids put their heads under the water.’ But they haven’t listened to me yet,” said Paneto.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, people who have a weakened immune system or are already ill are at the greatest risk from the elevated bacteria levels. The most common illness associated with swimming in polluted water is gastroenteritis. Symp-toms include nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and diarrhea. Eye, ear, nose and throat infections are possible, as well.
The water off Lake Shore Park tested high for bacteria on numerous occasions in 2009, hitting a high level of 1,986 in early August. The beach had the highest rate of unsafe swimming conditions during 2008, according to a report released by the National Resources Defense Council last year. It exceeded the health standard for bacteria 53 percent of the 2008 summer swimming season.
Paneto said life guards are encouraged to cool off in the lake so they stay alert, so he periodically goes into the water, even when there are warnings posted.
“If I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t,” he said.