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Dangerous bacteria infects Berkeley Aquatic Park

Visitors warned to avoid all contact with water

A white bridge extending over a narrow lagoon.
The Aquatic Park in 2009.

On Friday, the city of Berkeley warned visitors to the Aquatic Park near Berkeley Marina to stay away from the water, which has tested positive for bacteria that may indicate fecal contamination.

A water quality alert on the city site reads, “Avoid contact with the water at Aquatic Park. Testing received on Sept. 20, 2019 shows elevated levels of bacteria. Water contact may cause illness. Shower and towel dry after contact.”

Earlier this month, the Aquatic Park lagoon tested high for E. coli. The city advised residents not to swim in the water, even though activities like kayaking still happened in the putrid park. Now additional tests have made the park off-limits to anyone.

Berkeleyside reports that, in addition to E. coli, new tests checked for the bacteria enterococci. According to research published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2017, enterococci is a “fecal indicator bacteria” that is “linked to increased risk of gastrointestinal illness in swimmers.”

Since the bacteria is easy to test for and “abundant in the human intestinal tract,” enterococci levels are used as a marker for likely human waste contamination.

“Sources of fecal indicator bacteria such as enterococci include wastewater treatment plant effluent, leaking septic systems, stormwater runoff, sewage discharged or dumped from recreational boats, domestic animal and wildlife waste, improper land application of manure or sewage, and runoff from manure storage areas, pastures, rangelands, and feedlots,” notes the Environmental Protection Agency.

Among other health risks, exposure to enterococci can cause infections that could prove fatal.

A paper published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases in 2014 found that “the annual incident mortality was 1.6 per 100,000 persons” for those who contract blood-based enterococci infections.

In 1937, the Works Progress Administration created Aquatic Park, a 67.7-acre artificial lake. Hikers, kayakers, and birdwatchers frequent the area, which is also the site of the “Dream Land For Kids” playground.