Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - June 2008
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Don’t be an itchy swimmer
Polk County Enterprise - June 2008
LIVINGSTON — An out-of-town visitor to Lake Livingston contacted The Enterprise contacted after she and her physician decided that a large rash she developed shortly after her visit here was “Swimmer’s Itch” and they blamed the lake for her trouble possibly by “harboring parasites.” Two local experts who have lots of experience with swimmers who frequently jump in the lake say the statement by the woman and her physician is untrue. A spokesman who oversees water quality for the Trinity River Authority at Lake Livingston said TRA takes frequent samples to ensure the lake meets Health Department standards for “recreational contact.” Those standards chiefly relate to the presence of e. coli bacteria. Lake Livingston’s long term average is well below the Environmental Protection Agency’s requirement that bodies of freshwater contain no more than 126 e. coli organisms per 100 milliliters.
The minimum number of samples required is no fewer than five samples collected at equal intervals through a 30-day period. “The Health Department also says that the only ‘safe’ place to swim is in a properly treated swimming pool,” TRA’s water quality supervisor said. Long-time Livingston physician Mike Shukan added other evidence that swimming in Lake Livingston is safe for all waterlovers except for a small minority whose skin is especially sensitive. Shukan has been in family practice in Livingston since August 1980. “During that 28 years, I’ve only seen a few cases of skin irritation problems after swimming and they seem to occur as often after swimming in the lake and well-maintained swimming pools,” Shukan said. Shukan said the incidents that are lakerelated seem to occur around times that the lake level is low and particulate matter most concentrated. “I’ve never heard of a diagnosis of ‘Swimmer’s Itch,” Shukan said. “Ninety percent or possibly even 95 percent of the people that swim in the lake never have any problems.” His patients always had rapid relief by treating them with cortisone and Benedryl cream, he added. For those patients has seen with skin irritations that may have been related to a recent swim, the problem could have resulted from bacteria entering the water if a large number of swimmers are near you in the water.
“One sick person could result in several other swimmers in the group developing problems,” Shukan said. Rashes after a lake outing could also be caused by a reaction from sunscreen and mosquito repellents often worn together and in addition to other chemicals from perfumes, soap and other beauty products while spending a good part of the day in the hot sun. Irritation can also result from sitting on the grass at the lakeside. Both experts said there are so many possible variables that some unknown cause is much more likely than a water quality issue. Not only are recreational contact standards monitored, but millions of Texans get their drinking water from the Trinity River. Raw water is delivered to many water systems upstream of Lake Livingston, according to TRA. Downstream from the lake, 70 percent of the drinking water for Houston residents is drawn from the river. That water receives further treatment but should an event occur in the lake, those drinking water suppliers would immediately contact TRA if their processes were not resulting in water that meets the drinking water standards, which are much more stringent that recreational contact requirements.
The greatest danger to lake swimmers is the risk of drowning especially for weak swimmers or a head or neck injury from diving into shallow water. Here are several safety reminders to prevent those accidents: Swim only in areas designated for this purpose. Practice the “buddy” system. Be familiar with the lake bottom and water depth in areas where you swim, dive or wade. Unknown areas and sudden “drop offs” can cause a drowning tragedy. If you can’t swim, wear a Coast Guard approved flotation device when you are in, around or on the lake. Avoid swimming or skiing in areas infested with aquatic vegetation. Distances over water are difficult to judge. Don’t over-estimate your swimming ability, particularly at the beginning of the season when you may not be able to swim as far as you did at the end of last year. Be cautious in your attempts to swim after a float blown across the water by the wind. The wind can blow faster and longer