MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – DHEC has signs posted up and down Myrtle Beach reading "Swimming is Not Advised." Last week, we spoke to the Department of Health and Environmental Control and reported to you that DHEC says these signs, while permanent, are simply a precaution to beach-goers.
We decided to look deeper into the issue. The signs are there because higher levels of bacteria were recorded during the last DHEC tests. DHEC tests ocean water during the tourist season, May 1 to October. The bacteria comes from storm drains and the swash from the storm drain. While many locals may know what a swash is, tourists don't. A swash is the water coming from the storm drain that flows into the ocean on the beach. We spoke to tourists along the beach and the new information made them want to take precautions while near the storm drains.
"I think they should move them. It just boggles my mind that they can't find a better place to do this," a North Carolina tourist said.
A Canadian tourist said, "It would be nice to know ahead of time so at least you can make the decision to go in."
We spoke to Coastal Carolina University Professor of Marine Science and Chemistry Susan Libes. She says the levels of bacteria are unfortunate, but the city and other agencies have put money into fixing the problem. Water takes time to clean, and sickness from the ocean water depends on an individual's immune system. Libes says it's the citizens that can do more to help. You can help pollution levels at the beach by cleaning up after your pet, closing dumpster and trash lids, and by not feeding the birds. Animal waste washing into the drains from the city is the main source of bacteria, she says.
Libes compared DHEC warning signs posted at the beach to disclaimers put on food or toy labels to make you aware of the risk you take with that product. While there is a threat to your health, it isn't severe or guaranteed. An advisory doesn't mean you can't swim. The signs are there to warn you there's higher levels of bacteria coming out of these storm drains especially after it rains. You should avoid storm drains and swashes the most then. The elderly, young children and people with open cuts or weak immune systems should always avoid the swashes and storm drains.
The ocean isn't the only place having the problem. Meredith Helline reported on a similar issue happening around Hog's Inlet in North Myrtle Beach last week.
For more information, watch the stories above.