Frequently Asked Questions
What do we test for?
The indicator organism that Guam EPA uses in its analyses of recreational beach waters is Enterococcus. The Enterococcus group is a subgroup of fecal streptococci, which are commonly found in the gastrointestinal tract of all warm-blooded animals. This group is more human specific than fecal coliform, thus more indicative of wastewater contamination that can cause acute health problems if there is human contact.
The fecal coliform microbial group contains dozens of species that, themselves, may not be disease-causing but their presence indicates that disease-causing pathogens are present.
An "advisory" is a warning letting the public know of the relative water quality of a beach that is monitored by the Agency. These are essentially "swim at your own risk" advisories.
Technically, an "advisory" means that during that specific week's sampling, the bacteria concentration at that beach was above the accepted Guam Water Quality Standard for marine recreational beaches. Thus Guam EPA recommends the public avoid swimming or wading at that beach to minimize the risk of contracting swimming-related illnesses.
An advisory is released for sites where the enterococci concentration found in a single sample is greater than 104 colonies/100mL and/or where the geometric mean of the single sample and four previous weeks' results are greater than 35 colonies/100 mL.
If either or both standards are violated, Guam EPA issues advisories to the public against swimming in those waters. Guam EPA notifies all print, electronic and broadcast media, appropriate village mayors, the Guam Hotel and Restaurant Association, Department of Parks and Recreation, Department of Public Health and Social Services, the Department of Agriculture's Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources, appropriate hotels, as well as dive shops and all interested parties upon request.
High bacteria levels could cause acute health problems for people, especially young children, older people, or those with weakened immune systems. Beaches that are under advisory may have certain microbial organisms that can cause diseases such as gastroenteritis, hepatitis and cholera. Of these, the most common swimming-associated disease is gastroenteritis. Symptoms of this disease include minor illnesses such as vomiting, diarrhea, headache, fever and basic flu-like symptoms. It might also result in more serious illnesses such as meningitis.
If a beach is consistently under advisory, environmental health inspectors conduct a shoreline sanitary inspection in order to determine the source of the pollution. Point-source and non-point source pollution is handled by Guam EPA's Water Pollution Control Program.
Fortunately, beach closures due to unacceptable levels of pollution are rare. In 1992, Agat Bay North was closed due to a broken sewage outfall following Supertyphoon Omar. Similarly, West Agana Bay was closed after Supertyphoon Pongsona due to a damaged sewer outfall.
More commonly, fecal coliform counts are not at sufficiently high levels to mandate closures but are high enough to issue "advisories." There are varying degrees of contamination. A beach may be found to have pristine water, mildly contaminated water which results in an "advisory" being issued to the media, or to be chronically polluted which mandates a beach closing and for the area to be posted as "closed." Beaches have been closed for other incidences like jellyfish presence and toxic seaweed poisoning. All beaches are currently open.
Who can "Close" a beach?
Guam EPA and the Department of Public Health and Social Services have joint authority to close beaches.
10 Guam Code Annotated, Chapter 47 (Water Pollution Control Act), mandates the monitoring of Guam's recreational beaches in order to protect public health from the adverse effects of swimming in polluted waters. Guam EPA has provided this service to the community since 1974.
Bacteria and pathogens can be introduced into recreational beaches in three ways. First, feces from animals and humans may be washed directly into surface waters by the natural action of rainwater runoff. Runoff can be direct or travel through storm drains to surface waters. Second, deficienies in man-made systems (i.e., sewage treatment facilities, combined sewers, storm water systems, leaky sewer pipes) contribute untreated sewage to beach sites. Third, swimmers themselves may carry microorganisms into the water on their bodies.
The most effective way to reduce beach pollution is through pollution prevention efforts. This requires large-scale activities by the local government, local communities and villages to improve sewage treatment plants and stop direct discharges of raw sewage to Guam's rivers, streams and coastline.
Individually, the following efforts can help: Conserving water, keeping septic tank systems properly maintained, disposing of boat sewage in onshore sanitary facilities, properly disposing of animal waste from pets and using natural substances like compost to fertilize gardens can make a difference.
The United States EPA's BEACH program website has more information.
Currently, there are thirty-eight (38) recreational marine beach sites being monitored weekly island-wide. See map.
When and how often are the beaches monitored?
Beaches are monitored once a week, usually on a Wednesday, with the results reported to the public two days later. This translates to approximately one thousand nine hundred seventy six (1,976) recreational marine beach samples collected each year.
Monitoring of beaches fall under Guam EPA's Recreational Beach Monitoring Program. Biologists and environmental technicians implement this program, which is under the Environmental Monitoring and Analytical Services Division. Guam EPA chemists conduct analyses of these samples.
Yes, the list of monitored beaches is reviewed each year to determine which beaches have the highest use or are mostly likely to be used by the public. Other specific inquiries can be made to the RBMP contact person, Veronica Cummings ().
The RBMP does not specifically test marine fish tissue for contamination. Analyses used by the program test the bacteria levels in the water column and not in fish tissue. This program identifies public health safety only as related to swimming and wading. A Fish and Shellfish Consumption Advisory Program is currently being developed by Guam EPA to address this issue.
However, since 1991, the Agency has issued an advisory informing the public that no harvesting or consumption of seaweed, fish or marine organisms is allowed at Tanguisson Beach. In April 1991, thirteen people became ill after eating the seaweed known as Gracilera tsudai. Three of these victims died. Guam EPA's investigation of the incident was unable to determine what caused a previously harmless seaweed to produce a deadly toxin.
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