That repulsive unflushed toilet? Better to swim in it than in the Chesapeake Bay

By Petula Dvorak
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

It turns out my kids have basically been swimming in toilet water this summer.

They jump in, flip-dive, splash and kick around, undaunted by the jellyfish or the color of the water.

To them, it's the brown, brackish, beautiful Chesapeake Bay.

To others, it looks about as inviting as a sewer.

"I'm not going in; it just looks so gross," is something I hear at least once each season, when a friend who has joined us on the bay won't dive in.

I'm reluctant to finally say it, but the water weenies might have a point, particularly after a pounding rainstorm like the one we had Sunday.

This was made clear by some eye-opening and disgusting tests done this month by a group of students in a University of Maryland fellowship program called News 21. With the help of Sally G. Hornor, a biology professor at Anne Arundel Community College who is an expert in the field of estuary biology, the students compared samples from the Chesapeake Bay with actual toilet water.

Not Ty-D-Bol-blue fresh water, but some seriously dirty water -- the kind that has marinated a substantial load of its intended contents for four hours without being flushed.

The upshot: In some places after it's rained, the Chesapeake Bay is six times dirtier than the unflushed john.

Let me take a moment to shudder. We swam in the bay a week ago.

State and federal environmental folks frequently test the bacteria levels in spots all over the bay where folks are most likely to swim. There are certain acceptable levels of enterococci, the bacteria found in the poop of humans and warm-blooded animals, and when those levels are exceeded, that's when you see the "no swimming" warnings go up.

In its water quality reports, the Anne Arundel County Department of Health explains that, for safe swimming, there shouldn't be more than 35 bacterial colonies for every 100 milliliters of water in samples that are tested weekly.


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