Local Residents Steer Clear of Lake Erie

Bill Rice- It's hot on this early Friday evening in mid-July at the Cleveland Raquet Club. The patio is packed with cheering parents and dripping kids. We're at a swim meet. Racquet v. Skating club... the continuing duel.

For these "serious swimmers," it's the sound of the gun, the excitement of the competition, the starting blocks, the lane lines, that keeps them at the pool day after day. For their parents it's the comfortable patio furniture, and the cold drinks. For whatever reason, the pool draws crowds, and the expanse of nearby Lake Erie holds little attraction for many of the people here. We sent WCPN intern Maya Sequiera to find out why.

Maya Sequiera- Do you ever go swimming in Lake Erie?

Pool-goer- It's too far away and it's kind of gross. I don't think it's clean enough.

BR- About 35 miles to the west, mild waves break on the sand at the public beach in Vermillion. The beach is open, but other than occasional squawking of gulls, it's quiet, with only three families enjoying the sand and sun.

Karen Garold, Director of Environmental Health at the Erie County Health Department, and her assistant are gathering lake water samples, as they do every week to test for bacterial contamination. Garold says pools do seem to be the general preference.

Karen Garold- As far as why fewer people here than at public pool, people like to be in water that is disinfected and filtered. Also you can see the bottom of a pool, you can see what you're getting into, what you're walking on.

BR- The aesthetics on Lake Erie can be less than ideal as well. Here at Vermillion Beach a line of soggy, green growth about a foot and a half wide stretches the length of the beach. Garold says it's harmless, but not particularly pleasant.

KG- The green stuff is algae that is naturally occurring in the water. We did have a problem on this beach in June - the main complaint was the odor. There is an odor from any natural decomposition. When you get a lot of it decomposing it can get pretty smelly.

BR- Surely no cause for sounding the alarm. But the bacterial count is another matter. Every week Garold and her assistant take water samples back to the lab for analysis.

KG- What we're looking for is counts of E. Coli bacteria. It's used as an indicator organism, if E. Coli is present in the water it means that waste from warm blooded organisms, including humans, is also present. In those wastes, or feces, are other organisms that can cause illness.

BR- Erie County rates water quality, according to test results, as Good, Fair or Poor. If water quality at a particular beach is rated poor three weeks in a row, an advisory is issued. That's as far as it goes; people are free to swim if they wish. Results have been varied these past few weeks, but Garold says this week all 19 of the beaches were rated "good". So does that mean, since there's no advisory, that if there's nothing to worry about?

KG- Whenever you swim in any natural waters, there is a slightly higher risk of infection, ear, eye, sinus and nasal infections because of being in the water, swallowing the water, getting it in your ear your eye, because the water is not filtered and it's not disinfected.

BR- Something to consider when you're packing the kids off for a day at the beach. Garold says in her experience she knows of no case of serious illness that has been traced back to swimming in the lake. Still, a day at a lake Erie beach seems reserved for the more fearless, like Linda, who's brought her kids down for the afternoon.

Linda- As long as the signs are down and they say it's safe, the kids love it.

BR- Others of us still have their fears - some rational, others... less so.

MS- Why don't you go swimming in Lake Erie?

Pool-Goer- I don't know what's in the water.

MS- What do you think's in the water?

Pool-Goer- Sharks!

BR- In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3 WCPN News.

Support Provided By