High bacteria levels prompt advisories at five Pinellas beaches

Tropical Storm Debby dissipated almost three weeks ago, but it may still be leaving a bad taste in the mouths of some Pinellas County beachgoers — whether they know it or not.

The Pinellas County Health Department issued an advisory Wednesday declaring the water at five of Pinellas County's popular beaches a potential health risk due to high bacteria counts.

The culprit? Fecal matter that was washed from the land into the gulf by Debby's torrential rains.

Maggie Hall, public information director for the Health Department, said she doesn't recall a previous advisory involving so many local beaches. "Debby just drowned the state," she said.

The beaches named in the advisory are Honeymoon Island State Park in Dunedin, Sand Key Park in Clearwater, Indian Rocks Beach near the 1700 block of Gulf Boulevard, Archibald Park at Madeira Beach, and Redington Shores near 182nd Avenue W.

Hall didn't rule out the possibility of water at adjacent beaches also being contaminated.

While the beaches remain open, signs have been erected stating that swimming is not recommended because of "increased risk of illness."

Fecal contamination in the water can lead to infection or rashes, so children and people with compromised immune systems shouldn't get in the water. But the average person probably wouldn't get sick, Hall said.

"It's not going to kill you to be in water with a higher (bacteria) count, but it's just not very clean," she said.

The Health Department samples water at 13 locations around Pinellas County every two weeks, testing for signs of fecal coliform.

When the department tests the beaches again on July 30, bacteria levels should be back to normal as long as the county doesn't see another storm like Debby, Hall said.

She added that there is nothing her department can do to clean the water.

"It's not like you can put some kind of magic beans in there and it'll right itself," she said. "Nature has a way of sorting things out."

Times staff writer Laura C. Morel contributed to this report. Reach Andy Thomason at (727) 445-4155 or athomason@tampabay.com.

>> Fast facts

Hillsborough alerts

The Hillsborough Health Department has issued advisories for five beaches in the county. Testing showed elevated levels of fecal pollution at these sites, posing a potential hazard to swimmers: Ben T. Davis Beach, Cypress Point Park, Picnic Island Park, Bahia Beach and Simmons Park. The waters will be tested again Monday.

High bacteria levels prompt advisories at five Pinellas beaches 07/18/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 18, 2012 11:47pm]

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