DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – Officials say Detroit stopped testing the water at Belle Isle Beach along the Detroit River for E. coli last year because of its financial difficulties, and there are no plans to resume the testing.
Vernice Anthony, director of the city’s Department of Health and Wellness Promotion, told the Detroit Free Press that a resumption of beach testing hasn’t been discussed but that residents should feel confident about swimming there.
Bruce King, vice president of environmental safety and preparedness at the Institute for Population Health, said Belle Isle Beach doesn’t have a history of bacteria-issue closures and that the beach’s river location means even problem water would move away quickly.
“The water quality at Belle Isle is fairly good,” said King, whose nonprofit handles Detroit public health services. “With the flow of the river, your contaminants don’t stay at the beach. It’s probably safer to swim at Belle Isle than it is at some of the lakes.”
Shannon Briggs, a toxicologist with the Water Resources Division of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, estimated the cost of a season’s worth of beach water sampling and testing at between $5,000 and $6,000. Still, Briggs said she supports testing the water.
“Belle Isle Beach is unique, and since it’s the only beach on the Detroit River, it gives us a glimpse of how the Detroit River is doing,” Briggs said.
The state gave Detroit more than $2,600 in 2011 for testing, but that only covered part of the cost.
If swallowed while swimming, E. coli can cause severe cramps, nausea and diarrhea.
Ashley Lyles and her daughters, ages 2 and 3, spent a recent afternoon at Belle Isle Beach but she might not come back after learning about the testing.
“They’re putting people’s lives in jeopardy. People can put stuff in the water,” said Lyles, 25, of Detroit. “If you’re not testing it, you don’t know.”
Jackie Telesford, who was at the beach with her two grandchildren, ages 6 and 9, had a different reaction.
“I would prefer if … the water was tested. However, because this beach doesn’t have a history of excessive contamination, I still feel safe coming here, and I’ve come here for years and have not noticed a change in the quality of the water,” Telesford said.
Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection July 18 and has long-term debts of at least $18 billion.
Belle Isle, a 985-acre island located midway between Detroit and Windsor, has been owned by the city since 1879. In recent years, the island has suffered as Detroit can’t afford needed repairs.
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