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Stay out of water at Ben T. Davis Beach, health officials warn

TAMPA — Health officials warned Wednesday that bathers should stay out of the water off Ben T. Davis Beach because of an unsafe concentration of bacteria.

The Hillsborough County Health Department issued the warning after samples taken from the water Monday were above the Environmental Protection Agency's threshold for enterococci bacteria.

The problem is a recurring one the health department can do little to stop, spokesman Steve Huard said.

Another advisory was issued just two weeks ago, when a sample turned up an unsafe concentration of the same bacteria on June 5, records show. Before that, the health department cited the same problem when warning off bathers in late April.

If infected by the bacteria, people may suffer a number of health problems, including urinary tract infections, inner-abdominal infections, presence of bacteria in the blood and even meningitis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Exposure also could lead to skin rashes and other maladies, county health officials said.

Typically, the presence of this kind of bacteria is an indication of fecal pollution, which may result from stormwater runoff, pets, wildlife and human sewage, health officials said.

In the case of Ben T. Davis Beach, Huard said, it's almost all stormwater runoff.

"Unfortunately, it's the result of things we're never going to be able to fix," Huard said. "People just have to be more cognizant of what's coming off their vehicles, what's going onto the ground, etc. To make an impact, everyone needs to become an environmentalist."

The EPA's threshold for acceptable enterococci contamination is 104 colony-forming units per 100 millimeters of marine water.

Huard pointed out animal droppings also contribute to the water's condition.

When the health department's samples turn up an unsafe concentration of the bacteria, they search for any obvious problems, like a broken sewer line or pipe in the area. They hadn't found one as of Wednesday, Huard said.

The water will be sampled again on June 25. When bacteria levels fall back within a "satisfactory range," the health department will lift its warning, Huard said.

Concerned citizens can monitor bacterial readings for local waterways in a county-by-county directory online at www.floridas