The Rhode Island Department of Health found high counts of bacteria at City Park and Conimicut Point beaches late last week, and has deemed the beaches unsuitable for swimming until further inspection.
The high levels of Enterococci bacteria found can cause gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the small intestine and stomach, according to Dana Chadwick, spokesperson for the health department.
Rashes and ear, eye and throat illnesses can also result from swallowing or swimming in these bacteria.
The testing is part of a statewide beach-monitoring program that tests saltwater beaches across the state for pollution and bacteria. Water samples are gathered once or more per week, depending on the beach. In Warwick, samples are usually collected twice per week by the department and once per week by the city, according to Chadwick.
“Since Warwick beaches are located in the upper part of Narragansett Bay, pollution is more likely,” said Chadwick. “There’s less natural flushing because there’s less tidal activity. This means there are more potential sources of pollution.”
The main sources of this pollution are storm water, wastewater and run-off, all of which can result from excess rainstorms, according to the health department’s website.
Other sources of contamination include animal fecal matter and leaking septic systems.
City Park and Conimicut Point beaches were not yet open for the 2013 season when the recommendation was issued, which complicates the health department’s procedures, said Chadwick.
“Typically when we issue a closure, we also issue a re-opening time,” she said. “But since these beaches haven’t opened, it’s a little trickier.”
Further water testing this week will reveal if the bacteria level is still unsafe for swimmers.
Chadwick encouraged residents to visit the Department of Health’s State Water Interactive Map, a new feature of its website, for real time information on which beaches are open and suitable for swimming.