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DHEC beach monitoring season underway, analyzing water for pollutants

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 9:43 PM EDT
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - The ocean water temperatures are climbing, and so are the number of swimmers.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control launched its beach monitoring season to make sure the water is safe for all those swimmers.

DHEC spends the five warmest months of the year, May 1 to Oct. 1, testing the water for harmful bacteria.

“We don’t trace rain events, but we do monitor consistently every week so we know when we’ll be reaching people and getting those results out to folks when they’ll be making their decisions,” said DHEC Aquatic Scientist Bryan Rabon.

Rabon runs a team of aquatic scientists for DHEC that spends the summer researching 120 different points along the South Carolina coast.

They’re really looking for enterococcus bacteria, which isn’t harmful to humans, but, it is an indicator for other harmful pollutants in the water.

“If we tried to test for all the different things that are out there, it would be too expensive, but we can test for this one thing and then we can associate that to illness rates and that’s the way we issue our advisories,” said Rabon.

DHEC issues those advisories on its new webpage, checkmybeach.com.

The advisories range from safe, temporary, long-term and emergency closure.

Rabon is hoping the long-term efforts that cities like Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach are making will cut down on some of those advisories.

“They’re basically taking those stormwater pipes you see on the beach, we tell you to avoid, they work and put all those together and take them about 1,000 feet offshore,” said Rabon. “By doing that, any dilution that needs to occur happens well outside of recreational areas.”

The spokesperson for the city of Myrtle Beach said the three stormwater pipes the city has installed have been so successful, they’ve actually closed a few of DHEC’s monitoring stations because the tests constantly came back safe.

While the city looks to keep adding those, Rabon said it’s best to avoid any stormwater canals you can see, especially after it rains.

“You’re in an urban environment, it happens, and that’s where you may want to say, ‘Maybe we do our shell collecting and everything today, but when we want to swim, we use the pools,’” said Rabon.

Midway Swash for example is listed as a long-term advisory, so Rabon suggests you swim at least a few hundred feet away from it just to be safe.

You can find a complete list of advisories on Checkmybeach.com.

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