Article courtesy of Eric Kiefer | November 21, 2014 | NorthJersey.com | Shared as educational material
Where is the excrement coming from?
This is the main question remaining after the announcement of a recent study of the Third River – a tributary of the Passaic River that runs through Montclair and several other nearby towns – that found throughout several locations in the river alarmingly high levels of Enterococcus, a bacteria found in human and animal feces.
Most importantly, the study revealed a major takeaway lesson, according to Meiyin Wu, director of the Passaic River Institute at Montclair State University:
Don’t swim in the river … especially after a heavy rainfall.
The study, spearheaded by the Montclair-based advocacy group Friends of Bonsal Preserve and done with several agencies, including MSU, monitored levels of Enterococcus at 10 sites in the river from June to August.
Testing sites included:
• Montclair: Alonzo F. Bonsal Wildlife Preserve, upstream and downstream; Grove Street
• Nutley: Booth Park, Kingsland Park,
• Clifton: Notch Road, Oak Street, Riverwalk Way
• Bloomfield: Clarks Pond Nature Preserve, Brookside Park
By far, the highest reading came from the area around Kingsland Park in Nutley, which tested more at more than 2,500 cfu/100ml, over 75 times higher than the EPA’s recommended level of 33 cfu/100 ml for primary contact.
Levels of the pathogen, while not as high as those found near Kingsland Park, were above recommended exposure levels at several other sites, including all three locations in Montclair.
The study also found that rain events dramatically increased the levels of Enterococcus in the river, in some cases tripling the amount of the bacteria present in the water.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, enterococci are bacterial indicators of fecal contamination. Microbes in these wastes can cause short-term health effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms. They may pose a special health risk for infants, young children, elderly people, and people with severely compromised immune systems.
In addition to these direct exposure risks, the bacteria’s presence is a general indicator of other possible contamination, one of the main reasons that Enterococcus was chosen for the study, according to Wu.
During an informational forum held at MSU this past Sunday, Nov. 16, Wu presented the study’s findings to a room of concerned citizens, including Gray Russell, Montclair’s municipal sustainability officer, and 1st Ward Councilmember William Hurlock.
Wu cautioned that the study didn’t focus on the possible source of the high Enterococcus count, only the presence of the bacteria. She said that non-primary contact with the river such as wading, fishing or “dipping toes” is probably safe as long as people wash their hands after contact and avoid ingesting any water from the river.
WHO OR WHAT DUNNIT?
The question that people should be asking now is simple, according to Jonathan Grupper, a member of Friends of Bonsal Preserve:
Where is the Enterococcus coming from?