Buffalo, NY - A new research study from UB may in part be raising questions about water quality testing on Western New York beaches. But Erie County officials feel their current form of testing is sufficient.
We followed up on a report on this testing issue from our partners at Investigative Post. Dr. Gerald Koudelka headed up this project looking at a particular form of e-coli bacteria called shiga toxin which is harmful to humans. It comes in part from the runoff into the lakes.
The researchers found it is more resistant and can survive longer than other strains of e-coli. So it may be present even after the overall level of bacteria tested from the lake samples went down to a safe level. As such a beach could be opened under this general form of testing without really knowing if this specific strain is still high.
We asked Erie county officials if there is a need for more specific testing. Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gail Burstein says she feels they are taking the proper conservative approach to such testing. "So say we are able to test for the Shiga toxin. There's a whole range of other possible toxins that they're just are not tests available for. So you can't assume if there's no shiga toxic bacteria that doesn't mean there could be other contaminants that could make people ill. That's why we feel the testing for the e-coli is an indicator of contamination."
As it turns out in sheer "quantity" of the testing, Erie County currently tests its beaches every day as part of a a study on contamination.
Now coupled with this idea that testing could be more specialized is again the funding issue. The federal government actually provides states with ten million dollars in funding to do the testing. But it has been eliminated in the Obama Administration's 2014 budget proposal. They tried to do so in 2013 but it was put back in at the last minute after sharp criticism from clean water advocates. Senator Charles Schumer and others are seeking to restore it but it's not clear if that will happen.