The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department issued a health advisory for the Purdy sandspit on May 31. The advisory was lifted on June 5.
The health department issued the warning, but the State Health Department and the Department of Ecology also were involved due to its requirement to monitor the licensed shellfish farms in the area.
According to Ray Hanowell with the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, an elevated level of enterococci bacteria was measured in routine water samples. Subsequent sampling showed the levels dropping to normal, so the advisory was lifted within six days.
“Recent studies by the EPA show that illness from enterococci bacteria is more severe than from the more commonly found fecal coliform and E. coli,” said Hanowell. “Individuals exposed to enterococci would experience vomiting and diarrhea, but not too violent.”
At press time, the source of the contamination has not been identified. Possible sources include: bacteria released from overturned sand caused by high winds; septic system leakage; dead animals (possible but doubtful); and defecation from dogs, horses and other critters.
Hanowell, along with Erin Ewald from Pierce County Conservation District, acknowledged that there has been recent septic work in the area, but doubt that was the source. They both said that the source may never be identified.
Ewald works with farm property owners and their animals to control bacteria spread from those areas.
Even though no reports have identified any illness to humans from this event, beach users should be alert for posted advisories and act accordingly.