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By RUSTY DENNEN
A final study tracking the source of bacterial contamination at Fairview Beach says that efforts by the state and local residents are shedding more light on the problem, but more work needs to be done.
The microbial source-tracking report--a joint effort by the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Tech--is focused on the 46 Virginia beaches under the state's beach-monitoring program. The report was recently posted on the state Health Department website.
Fairview Beach, a popular venue along the Potomac River in King George County, is the only state-monitored beach not on the Chesapeake Bay or Atlantic Ocean.
It has another distinction. Since Health Department monitoring began in 2004, Fairview Beach has consistently topped the list in the number of swimming advisories posted during the May-to-September swimming season.
The report's section on Fairview Beach notes that the site has a long history of contamination.
"The most obvious indications have been frequent advisories every year," it states, along with reports by residents last year "of human waste observed on the one-mile shoreline plus reports of tampons and human waste" along private beach fronts.
Fishermen also reported finding human waste and tissue in their nets.
The report cautions there's no certainty that what's described in those reports actually is human waste.
A slew of state agency representatives and beach residents met for three hours at the village's firehouse last month to talk about the contamination, remediation efforts and what still needs to be done.
Years of work have been invested in the search for a cause of the contamination. Sewer lines and an aging trailer park's septic sites have been inspected and repaired, and dye testing of pipes and stormwater drains completed.
The Health Department takes water samples at three spots along the beach each week during the swimming season. If bacteria levels are above allowable limits, an advisory is posted. Five advisories were put up this season.
The Fairview Beach Residents Association has done its share of work, including identifying and correcting hot spots.
Bacteria levels tend to spike following heavy rains, pointing to a link with runoff from the shore. Also, researchers believe that bacteria may be accumulating in sediment in the shallow water just off shore. Tide and wave action may stir them up.
Scientists have not been able to determine the source of the runoff contamination, or whether it is from human waste.
The weekly water samples are tested for enterococcus bacteria, not harmful in themselves. Those indicate the presence of potentially harmful fecal bacteria that can cause eye, ear and stomach ailments. To date there's been no confirmed reports waterborne disease related to bacteria at Fairview Beach.
"The sources of the bacteria found in shallow waters of the river near Tim's II," a shoreline restaurant, "are still unknown," the report says. However, the residents association team eliminated an old bathhouse, the Shore Store and Tim's II as possible sources during dye testing.
The team suggests the bacteria could be related to boat sewage discharges, discharges from sewage treatment plants upriver, or an overflow from a collection system onshore.
The report says several things need to be done, including:
Finding the source of bacteria in runoff from the shore, and whether those are enough to cause advisories at the beach.
Locating sources of fecal bacteria in the river when the water is stirred up,
Pinpointing locations of upriver sewage treatment plants.Read the report: vdh.virginia.gov/Epidemiology/DEE/BeachMonitoring/documents/VDH-Virginia %20Tech%20Bacteria %20Source%20Tracking%20Report %202011.pdf