Beachgoers in Westport can always feel safe and sound because the Westport Weston Health District monitors bacteria levels at the town's beaches weekly.
"Staring the week before Memorial Day through the week before Labor Day, we monitor bacteria levels at the swimming beaches: Compo Beach and Burying Hill Beach," said John Cimarosa at the Health District. He has done water testing at the beaches for the past 10 years. "The state Department of Public Health monitors Sherwood Island."
With the closing of two Norwalk beaches this week due to high levels of water bacteria, Cimarosa said bacteria levels are always a concern.
"Norwalk is not far, and we don't know where the bacteria came from. In fact, we don't know anything about it other than there were high bacteria counts," he said.
Because bacteria can cause intestinal illnesses, Cimarosa said the waters are tested every Monday morning. Water samples are sent to a lab in Hartford for testing, which takes 24 hours. If high levels of bacteria were found, the Health District would close the beach when the results were received.
When water is closed to swimmers, a second round of testing follows the next day, Cimarosa said.
"If we close a beach on Tuesday, we test the water again on Wednesday to see if the beach can be reopened for Thursday," he said.
Bacteria levels in water can spike for a number of reasons, heavy rain being a common cause.
"When it rains a lot, the land flushes out into the Sound," Cimarosa said. "There are also many birds and geese in the area that could foul the water in a short period of time."
Depending on the source of bacteria, Cimarosa said the problem can be cured naturally as "tides generally flush the water out."
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