Northeast
Chris Craig / The Providence Journal

How and why R.I. decides to close a beach

A guide to the bouncing beach ball of no-swim orders that typically follow heavy rain

The Rhode Island Department of Health on Wednesday recommended that eight beaches be closed to swimming because of high bacteria counts in the water. As of late Thursday morning, one had reopened.

Here’s more information on beach testing and closings, based on conversations with Joseph Wendelken, public information officer for the Health Department, and Michael J. Healey, chief public-affairs officer for the state Department of Environmental Management:

What does it mean when the Department of Health recommends closing a beach? It’s a public-health advisory. The department is saying there may be a concern for people who go swimming, particularly people who are elderly or have compromised immune systems.

Can I still go and walk on the sand? Yes, people can still go to the beach. If the Health Department recommends the closing of a state-run beach, parking-lot attendants tell beachgoers that swimming is prohibited, and lifeguards walk along the shoreline to keep people from going into the water.

What is the risk for swimmers? Gastroenteritis is the big concern. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, stomachache and diarrhea. Children are particularly vulnerable, because they’re more likely to ingest water.

How often are the beaches tested? It varies. The state divides the beaches into three tiers based on use and history of contamination. The first tier, consisting of heavily used beaches with a history of bacteria issues, gets tested twice a week. The second tier gets sampled twice a month. The third, consisting of the least-used and lowest-risk beaches, is tested once a month.

If my beach fails, would I have to wait a month for another test? No, beaches are tested daily after they fail.

What does the Health Department test for? Enterococci bacteria. If they find more than 60 colony-forming units of the bacteria in 100 milliliters of water, the department recommends closing the beach to swimming.

Why are beaches often closed after heavy rainfall? Runoff from roads, parking lots and other impervious surfaces carries bacteria, often from animal waste, into the waterways.

What can I do to help? Clean up after your pet. If you’re at the beach with a baby, check the child’s diaper often.

See The Providence Journal article . . .

jperry@providencejournal.com

(401) 277-7614

On Twitter: @jgregoryperry