Environmental Health

Things are Going Just “Swimmingly” in State and Local Environmental Laboratories

By Erinna Kinney, Specialist, Environmental Laboratories, APHL

Beach towel…check! Sunscreen…check! And IDEXX Enterolert Test kit…check???  Not to worry – the state and local environmental laboratories have that covered.

Each summer (and everyday in some regions of the U.S.), public health and environmental laboratories are on the frontline protecting public waters via quality testing.  Ranging from your local swimming pond to the water park to the beach, public health and environmental laboratories analyze samples for harmful waterborne pathogens and contaminants.  Their results inform public health notification decisions.

In the protection of recreational waters, many laboratories perform microbial analysis for pathogens and indicator organisms such as total coliform, E.coli, Entercoccus, Cryptosporidium and Giardia.  In the event of a waterborne disease outbreak, many public laboratories perform recreational water testing as well.

This week (May 23-29, 2011) marks National Recreational Water Illness and Injury (RWIIs) Prevention Week.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “RWIIs are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers, or oceans.”  The goal of this observance is to raise awareness about RWIIs and highlight preventative steps to protect against them. This year’s theme is “swimmer’s ear” (otitis externa).

Chemical contamination of water can also cause RWIIs by direct contact with chemicals in water or chemicals that evaporate from the water and cause indoor air quality problems.  In addition to illnesses, the recognition of injuries such as drowning can occur in and around the water were included in the week’s observance.

With many Americans tightening their purse strings, the visitation and use of public beaches and waterways is an increasingly popular means for recreational activities this summer. The next time you take a dip, remember the thousands of public environmental laboratories working behind the scenes to make sure things go just “swimmingly” for you and your family.

For more information on CDC’s National Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week, please visit RWII.



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