Elevated bacteria levels close Southwick beach, officials discourage swimming in CT River

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The Southwick town beach has been closed due to increased bacteria levels and officials do not recommend swimming in the Connecticut River after it tested positive for E. coli.

CBS 3 spoke with Thomas Fitzgerald, Health Director for the town of Southwick, who confirmed that the beach will not open on Thursday either. The parks and recreation department of Southwick must authorize further testing of the water before the beach can be reopened.

If such testing is commissioned and levels have fallen to acceptable levels, the beach may be reopened in time for the weekend, potentially as early as Friday.

Fitzgerald said the elevated levels could be due to contamination from the large population of Canadian geese who inhabit the area and heavy rainfall, which may have washed bacteria from animal residue and other land sources into the water.

Fitzgerald said that recent beach visitors should not worry too much about getting sick as bacteria levels have fluctuated all season and no one has reported contracting an illness. Fitzgerald also noted that people are still swimming around Congamond Lake, but as a public beach, there are extra precautions put in place for potential beachgoers.

Volunteers spread out all over Western Massachusetts on last week and began testing water quality in our rivers, lakes and ponds. Bacteria levels jumped in several locations besides Southwick because of the heavy rain and flash floods, according to river steward Andrea Donlon.

Some strains of E. coli found in food can be deadly. Donlon says the type found in the Connecticut River isn't deadly, but can still get people sick.

Symptoms of E. coli include ear infections or gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea. Open wounds are vulnerable as well.

Officials say it usually takes 24 to 48 hours after a storm for bacteria to go back to safe levels. The larger bodies of water like the Connecticut River take longer to stabilize.

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