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Before you go in the water at Whatcom County beaches, read this water quality report

Birchwood kids cleanup beach for Earth Day

First graders from Birchwood Elementary cleanup Little Squalicum Beach for Earth Day, Friday, April 22, 2016.
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First graders from Birchwood Elementary cleanup Little Squalicum Beach for Earth Day, Friday, April 22, 2016.

Before you play in the water at a Whatcom County beach, you might want to check out this new study about fecal bacteria contamination along its shores.

Titled “Safe for Swimming? Water Quality at Our Beaches,” it was based on an analysis of bacteria samples that were taken from beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states as well as Puerto Rico.

A total of 2,627 sites — more than half of those tested — could have been unsafe for swimming on at least one day last year, according to the report, and 610 were possibly unsafe at least 25 percent of days in which sampling was done.

What made them potentially unsafe?

If bacteria levels were higher than a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency threshold, one in which an estimated 32 out of 1,000 people could be sickened by swimming in the water, then the site was deemed potentially unsafe, according to the study.

Millions of people fall ill each year when they swim in water contaminated by fecal bacteria from urban and agricultural runoff as well as sewage leaks, according to the report.

Environment America and the Frontier Group conducted the study.

Among the report’s findings:

In Washington state, 89 of 215 beach sites — or 41 percent — that were sampled were possibly unsafe for swimming at least one day in 2018.

Whatcom County had the highest percentage of potentially unsafe beach days, on average, in the state. That came in at 12%.

The next four were Island County at 7%; King County at 6%; Clallam County at 5% and Skagit County at 5%.

The report also highlighted unsafe swimming days at specific beaches in Washington state.

The top five, based on number of potentially unsafe days, were Sooes Beach in Clallam County at seven days; Lummi Bay directly adjacent to the second tidegate in Whatcom County at five days; Dakwas Park Beach, Neah Bay at five days; Little Squalicum Park in Whatcom County at five days; and Cline Spit County Park in Clallam County at four days.

Read the full report, “Safe for Swimming? Water Quality at Our Beaches,” online at environmentamerica.org. The site also has maps that locate the beach sites.

Kie Relyea has been a reporter at The Bellingham Herald since 1997 and currently writes about social services and recreation in Whatcom County. She started her career in 1991 as a reporter and editor in Northern California.
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