Sad news for beach lovers. A new study has found that beach sand is infected with fecal bacteria and that it poses a bigger threat to people’s health than anything they can encounter in the water.
A team of researchers tested samples of sand and water taken from Hawaiian beaches and found that sand hides a lot more fecal bacteria than water. One dangerous example was E. Coli.
On top of everything, the experts believe that one may actually cause the other as the paper suggests that: “wastewater-contaminated marine beach sand may act as a chronic source of wastewater bacteria to the beach seawater”.
It’s a well known fact in the medical community that wastewater (primarily from sewage) can in fact contaminate seawater to the point where beaches have even been closed on certain days. The dangers are not to be overlooked as a person who has accidentally swallowed fecal-contaminated water will likely experience rashes, stomach aches and / or diarrhea.
But the researchers stress that in recent years scientists have found a lot more fecal bacteria in beach sand than in seawater. To be exact, these fecal bacteria levels are between 10 and 100 times higher in beach sand.
For their project, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, a team of scientists led by Tao Yan from the University of Hawaii, created and studied simulations inside the lab.
They were interested in observing how sewage infects beach sand as well as seawater, and how the bacterial population (which includes fecal bacteria) changes as time passes.
The results of the simulations showed that fecal bacteria typically decay much faster in seawater than they do in beach sand. The team believes that is a very likely explanation for why beach sand is so much more infected.
As for why these fecal bacteria take longer to decay in beach sand, the researchers explained that it doesn’t take much for wastewater bacteria to find themselves embedded in “biofilms”, which can be found in sand and are known for “providing shelter” to bacteria.
Another reason is that sunlight often deters bacteria growth. But the team informed that beach sand offers fecal bacteria a decent cover and shelters them from sunlight to an extent. Shallow seawater on the other hand, does not protect bacteria in any shape or form.
The study authors warn that the dangers posed by infected beach sand need to be taken into consideration and carefully weighted in order to determine the level of impact that infected beach sand has on the quality of seawater, as well as the public’s health.
The beach chosen for this project was Kualoa Beach. It’s a vacationing spot found on the Oahu Island and sits at roughly a foot and a half from the high-tide line.
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