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Spike in E. coli at Aquatic Park Worries Berkeley Residents

By Ruby Freedman

On Friday, September 20, the City of Berkeley informed the public that the levels of E. coli — a bacteria found in humans and contaminated waters — are dangerously elevated in West Berkeley’s Aquatic Park. The city’s website cautioned residents by recommending they avoid physical contact with the park’s waters.

The presence of E. coli is not the primary worrisome aspect of the contaminated waters. Jeff Soller, the principal scientist at Soller Environmental and Berkeley resident, said, “E. coli is measured as an indicator of other microorganisms that can make people sick.” These include illness-causing pathogens, viruses, and bacteria.

E. coli has many different strains, and some are not harmful, like the ones found in the gut and in human waste. However, some strains of E. coli are infectious and dangerous. The probable cause of the contamination in Aquatic Park is a leaking sewage pipe, the source of fecal pollution.

Skin rashes, eye infections, and intestinal infections are all possible effects of coming into contact with Aquatic Park’s waters. Joseph Eisenberg, the chair and professor of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Michigan has studied contaminations similar to Aquatic Park’s and thinks that the infectious bacteria that are present with E. coli are what would cause these illnesses.

Eisenberg also mentioned the possibility of the water contamination being linked to climate change. “Usually, it’s extreme weather events that are associated with increased water contamination. Flooding and droughts are examples of extreme weather events … We think that the increase in these extreme events is connected with climate change,” he said. Although it is possible that the two issues are related, the basic explanation for polluted waters like this is fecal pollution.

Judy Luce, a regular visitor at Aquatic Park, was alarmed by the lack of caution the park gave to residents about the E. coli. Luce recalled a time when she lost control of the ball she was throwing to her dog, Jerry, and the ball landed in the water. “Now that I know about the E. coli, I am reluctant to go there … [I am] just concerned he will drink the contaminated water,” Luce said. She also mentioned how she will be “following this story to make sure it is adequately addressed.”

The City of Berkeley, in an effort to treat the contaminated water, is increasing its monetary support of Aquatic Park’s waters and its water samplings.

In addition, a grant of $400,000 has been reserved for a restoration process with the help of Measure T1, according to the City of Berkeley website. Measure T1 is a bill passed in 2016 that allocates $100 million for the renovation and restoration of the city’s facilities and other properties.

One thing that all residents of Berkeley should be sure to do is take action to prevent issues like these from happening in their community in the future by being fully aware of their sewage pipes and possible leaks.

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So impressed that Ruby, a Berkeley High student jumped on this issue and did the research to connect the dots between climate change and local environmental issues as well as political action and the need for citizen involvement to keep our world clean and healthy.

Athena White Allen
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