The levels of E. coli in Goose Run in Marietta are far higher than the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency deems acceptable for a creek of its size.
The bacteria levels were tested by the EPA throughout the summer of 2012 and testing will continue this summer as the EPA tries to confirm and narrow the source of the problem, said Jesse Daubert, watershed coordinator with Friends of the Lower Muskingum River, which recently received the findings.
The testing is separate from other assessments the Ohio EPA is currently completing on the Lower Muskingum River.
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E. coli can be seen here as it is studied during an past U.S. outbreak.
"For the past two years I've been working on developing a watershed action plan for the southern watershed," said Daubert.
Part of developing that plan includes testing the water for pollutants, which the EPA did through testing a series of water samples collected last summer.
Those tests found that E. coli content for the creek is nearly 50 times what it should be.
E. Coli locally
The levels of E. coli in Goose Run are nearly 50 times as high as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's accepted standard.
The problem could be a faulty pipe emptying into the stream, sewage problems with nearby houses or livestock having access to the stream.
The Ohio EPA will resume testing of the creek this week to confirm the numbers and try to narrow down the source of the problem.
E. coli is typically only harmful if ingested, but can also pose a threat if it comes into contact with open wounds or people with weak immune systems.
Source: Jesse Daubert, watershed coordinator with Friends of the Lower Muskingum and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
An acceptable E. coli count for a creek the size of Goose Run is 161 colony forming units (CPU) per 100 milliliters. An average of the samples collected at Goose Run and its tributaries showed E. coli content to be 7,718 CPU per 100 milliliters, said Daubert.
"It definitely means (the creek) is exceeding the standard that the EPA has set," he said.
Goose Run, which begins at Washington State Community College, goes underneath part of the city of Marietta before emptying into the Muskingum River just upstream of the mouth of the Ohio River.
Because the creek is flowing into such a large body of water, the effect of the bacteria on Muskingum River is likely negligible, said Daubert.
The EPA plans to resume testing of the Goose Run this week as part of its numerous summer tests on Ohio waterways.
"We'll be back this week sampling those locations again to see if there are consistent numerical values there and then to start narrowing the source," said Erin Strouse, spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA.
Unlike fecal content, which the EPA previously used as a testing standard for waterways, E. coli can only come from mammalian sources, said Daubert.
That means the problem could be a faulty pipe emptying into the creek at some point, livestock access to the stream or people along the stream with failing septic systems, he said.
If the problem is narrowed down to a sewage issue, the EPA could possibly involve the health department.
Currently, Devola residents who still use septic systems are being faced with the prospect of investing thousands of dollars to hook up to a sewage system because of high levels of nitrates the EPA discovered in the ground water.
However, involving the health department would be several steps down the road, said Strouse.
While E. coli is typically only harmful if ingested, it can cause infections if it makes contact with an open wound and can cause sickness in people with weaker immune systems, said Daubert.
If people are going to be in contact with the waters of Goose Run, they should take precautions-covering open wounds and rinsing and washing hands afterward, said Strouse.
Goose Run is the largest drainage source in the city of Marietta and yet many citizens tend to not even be aware it exists, said city councilman Roger Kalter, D-1st ward.
"We need to sort out what the issue is with Goose Run," said Kalter, but stressed that it is premature for guessing the source of the problem.