One of the most popular beaches on Tampa Bay has too much bacteria, but there's a good chance you'd never know it. Budget cuts forced the Health Department to stop routine testing there.
New testing shows waters off the Pinellas side of the Gandy Bridge have high levels of bacteria that could make people sick.
"It was over 700 at one of the sites, and over 400 at the other site," stated Dr. Shannon McQuaig, a microbiology professor at St. Petersburg College.
Using EPA-approved methods, Dr. McQuaig tested water for enterococci -- fecal bacteria, which causes stomach, skin, and breathing problems.
"The numbers that we saw were anywhere from four to seven, almost eight times, the standard that Florida uses," she explained. "It's a little concerning knowing that we have high levels of bacterial counts and seeing the large amount of people that come to this beach."
The findings surprised beachgoers like Leeanne Wadsworth since she's never seen a health warning posted at the Gandy.
"That's why I don't go to Ben Davis, because they say that all the time. That's why I go here," she said.
There haven't been any warnings at Gandy because no one's been testing. Budget cuts forced the Health Department to stop routine testing there two years ago.
Pinellas County currently tests 10 beaches based on contamination history and visitors. Up until now, Gandy hasn't made the cut.
"The problem for monitoring for bacteria is, it's really a needle in a haystack," offered Gayle Guidash of the Pinellas County Health Department.
After seeing McQuaig's results, Director Guidash says she'll re-evaluate test sites.
"For us, the next step is to get with St. Pete College and the college students and find out what they did and we'll go out as well and do some of the sampling," she promised.
In the meantime, if you do swim at the Gandy Beach, doctors say you should shower afterwards. Avoid the water if you have an open cut or compromised immune system.
And the Health Department doesn't test for vibrio, which can cause skin problems. So regardless of if and when your favorite beach is tested, it's up to you to have your family's health and well-being in mind.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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