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IN THE MAIL: Minnesota's beach closures matter

HALLOCK, Minn. -- When the headlines trumpet news these days about E. coli outbreaks, a concerned mother usually thinks first about the food provided to her children. But there's also a possibility that the health threat started at her family's f...

HALLOCK, Minn. -- When the headlines trumpet news these days about E. coli outbreaks, a concerned mother usually thinks first about the food provided to her children. But there's also a possibility that the health threat started at her family's favorite beach. Minnesotans should enjoy and use our many scenic, cooling recreational beaches this summer, but we should also be armed with information to protect our health.

E. coli is one of several "bugs" that can cause health problems at beaches or other water resources. Others include pseudomonas, shigella, cryptosporidium, and giardia. All are waterborne, disease-causing germs that can enter streams and lakes with sewage or runoff from land. Small children and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk from these pathogens.

Although outbreaks of waterborne disease from recreation at Minnesota beaches are rare, they are not unheard of. In 2005, for example, the Minnesota Department of Health reported the closing of swimming beach at Lake Minnewashta Regional Park in Carver County because of seven cases of illness in children ranging in age from 2 to 13. The department said symptoms "included diarrhea, bloody diarrhea, fever, cramping and vomiting." The children developed their illnesses two to three days after swimming in the lake.

The Minnesota Department of Health acknowledges that "no single entity ... tracks the closure of beaches" in the state, and recommends that citizens contact their county or city health departments to find out about local conditions. Another way to find out more about lake conditions and beach safety this summer is by going to Conservation Minnesota's www.checkmylake.org Web site. Using information compiled by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the new website is a user-friendly way that Minnesotans can find out whether their favorite lakes are clean or polluted or haven't been tested recently.

Conservation Minnesota has created a daily "beach report" at the same Web site that summarizes known beach closings and advisories each weekday during the summer.

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According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, nearly half of Minnesota lakes tested are polluted with algae, chemicals or other contaminants. And for every lake the agency has tested, there are four more that it hasn't.

In the long run, the only way we can be sure about the safety of our beaches is to test all lakes, identify the pollution sources and clean them up. In the meantime, being aware of the potential risk and taking simple steps to prevent unnecessary exposure to contaminants are the best ways to enjoy Minnesota waters safely in the summer.

So go out and play in the water -- but be informed too.

Kristin Eggerling

Eggerling, a mother who resides in Hallock, most recently served as the administrator of Quin Community Health Services in Newfolden, Minn., which serves Kittson, Marshall, Pennington, R

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