University of North Carolina researchers recently released a study that found that many people – especially children – are more likely to get gastrointestinal illnesses after playing in the sand, than those who do not.
Even if parents aren’t worrying about the bacteria levels in ocean water, a new study has some cautious at the beach yet again.
Researchers at the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill recently released a study that found that many people – especially children – are more likely to get gastrointestinal illnesses after playing in the sand, than those who do not.
The study, conducted at seven ocean and freshwater beaches within a 7-mile radius of sewage plant discharges, surveyed 27,365 people about swimming and sand exposure. They then called those people 10 days later, asking if they had stomach issues, infections or rashes.
Those who had contact with the sand, especially those that had been buried in the sand, were found to be 13 percent more likely to have gastrointestinal problems.
Still, local water treatment officials said that it’s very unlikely discharge from those plants (at least locally) will make anyone sick. While the study was done near sewage outfalls, , Robert Rowland, the supervisor of the sewer division of Scituate, said his town, for instance, is very tough about bacteria tests and spillage into the water.
“Our criteria for (discharged) clean water is a lot stricter than just recreational water,” he said.
Yet Steven Wing, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina involved in the study, speculated that sand contamination could come from sewage treatment plants. He also cited other ways that sand could get contaminated, including fecal matter from domestic animals like dogs or from town run-off.
“More can be done to trace this, but it was a good study, and it was well designed. It raises the questions about having cleaner beaches,” he said. “To me, that’s the bottom line.”
But for Krista Langlais, a 38-year old mom from New York, keeping her kids safe is the bottom line.
“If I knew about the bacteria issues, I would have considered that before coming,” she said as she kept an eye on her four-year-old daughter playing on Wollaston Beach.
Nearby, also digging in the sand, Melissa Horr, a 22-year old teacher at the Uplift summer program, said sand bacteria made her worry for her 26 students. “I thought it would still be safe to bring them here, but this is making me nervous,” Horr said.
But Dr. Christopher Heaney, the lead author of the study, said parents shouldn’t be too worried about his findings. “I don’t think this is a reason not to play in the sand,” he said. “I just think its prudent to remember what mom said – wash your hands.”
The Patriot Ledger