sealPurdue News

August 23, 1996

Sea Grant, others working to reduce Lake Michigan beach closings

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Visitors to coastal Lake Michigan, both presidential and others, may once again find beaches closed because of high levels of E. coli bacteria. Already this year, eight national and state beaches on the Indiana shoreline have been closed because of high bacterial counts. President Bill Clinton is expected to make a whistlestop visit to Michigan City on Wednesday, Aug. 28.

In response to the bacterial contamination, 18 local, state and federal agencies have formed an E. coli Interagency Technical Task Force to share information and address bacterial contamination along Lake Michigan. As a partner in the task force, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is investing approximately $80,000 in a two-year research project to help find solutions to reduce the health risks and economic impact associated with these high levels of E. coli in Indiana.

The long-term goal of the research is to differentiate human waste from animal waste by assessing the presence of a virus and bacteria in the waste. Being able to make that distinction will indicate the source of the pollution.

Although E. coli is found in human and animal digestive tracts and in itself isn't considered a dangerous germ to healthy individuals, its presence increases the possibility that other germs may be present that can cause amoebic dysentery, hepatitis, polio and a number of digestive ailments.

Sea Grant researchers Evert Ting and Charles C. Tseng, at Purdue University Calumet, are testing water samples from northwest Indiana sites on Lake Michigan that have had significant pollution. Richard Whitman of the National Biological Service, Lake Michigan Ecological Station, is providing consulting services on water sampling and data analysis.

Ting said, "In addition to E. coli counts, research focuses on another group of bacteria, bifidobacteria, and on poliovirus. Both are indicators of human fecal pollution. With the recent advances in molecular methodology, rapid detection of viral contamination in water is now possible." Poliovirus is associated with waste from newly immunized humans.

According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the Grand Calumet River, Burns Waterway, Trail Creek and other Indiana streams flowing into Lake Michigan often fail to meet federal and state standards for swimmable waters -- rated at less than 235 E. coli per 100 milliliters of water. Preliminary studies have found high counts following rainfall, but the primary source of the pollution has not been identified.

"Once we learn the source of the pollution, then targeted steps can be taken to reduce or eliminate the contamination," said Phillip E. Pope, director of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant at Purdue University.

The southern Lake Michigan dunes and adjacent beaches represent major natural attractions with appeal to both domestic and international tourists, and the quality of these resources is essential to business development. Tourism dollars are an increasingly significant portion of the national economy, and regional tourism agencies are allocating resources to attract tourists to the southern Lake Michigan region

"Beach closings can cost an area up to $5 million per day in lost revenue," Pope said. "We need new rapid assessments to close a beach and reopen it as soon as safely possible. Additionally, beach closings create an image of significant pollution problems, which have human health risk implications and create a negative impact on future business development. Sea Grant research will contribute to safer beaches and sustainable coastal economic development."

Based at Purdue University, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant addresses Great Lakes and coastal issues to enhance sustainable coastal economic development. Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant is one of 29 programs that make up the National Sea Grant College Program created by Congress in 1966. Funding is received from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Purdue University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

ACS code/960823 AgR Pope/9608f26

Sources: Evert Ting, (219) 989-2490

Phillip Pope, (765) 494-3573; e-mail,

Writers: Nancy Riggs, (217) 333-8055

Chris Sigurdson, (765) 494-8415; home (765) 497-2433; e-mail,

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