Bacteria swarm keeps Oceanfront revelers out of water

UPDATE: The swimming advisory has been lifted for the area that includes 22nd to 37th streets. The entire Oceanfront now is open for swimming.



Bright sunshine beckoned beachgoers to the Oceanfront on Thursday, but just off the Boardwalk, a neon yellow sign stopped most in their tracks.

"Swimming and/or wading prohibited," it said. "Bacteria levels do not meet state water quality standards."

The ban began Wednesday with warnings not to swim between 22nd and 70th streets - half the Oceanfront. By midday Thursday that area was shortened to between 22nd and 37th streets, still much of the resort strip.

For those 15 blocks, red flags flew next to the lifeguards' orange beach umbrellas. Sunbathers kept to their chairs, children played in the sand instead of the surf, and hotel pools filled up.

"Last year it was cold and raining," said Mame Ndiaye, a New Yorker who reclined in the shade near her children. "So we came this year, and we can't get in the water."

"Hopefully tomorrow," she said.

This isn't the first time a bacteria surplus has frustrated beach lovers. It isn't even the first time this year - First Landing State Park had a beach closing May 21, and Sandbridge had one Aug. 6, said Dan Horne, a spokesman for the city's Department of Public Health.

In those cases, just one of the 22 swimming spots tested weekly was found to have bacteria. This week, three points tested positive at once.

The Department of Public Utilites' lab tests them for enterococci, bacteria that show up when there are organisms in the water that can cause gastrointestinal illness and skin, eye and respiratory infections.

Lab Supervisor Susan Sadowski said technicians dilute the samples, add a chemical agent that seeks out enzymes and pour the mixture into containers like tiny ice cube trays. The sealed trays spend 24 hours in an incubator. When they emerge, any cubes with bacteria glow under ultraviolet light.

A calculation based on the number of glowing cubes determines how much bacteria is in the water, Sadowski said. The limit is 104 "colonies." The highest number this week was 228 colonies but, for comparison, she said, raw sewage has at least a million.

So a relatively tiny amount of pollution can cause results over the allowable limit. Horne said the culprits are primarily dog and bird feces - nothing huge like a sewage leak.

Beachgoers can help prevent such bacteria surpluses - and beach closures - by cleaning up after their pets, properly disposing of food trash and baby diapers, and fighting temptation to feed seagulls, which can hover over the water and defecate into the ocean, Horne said.

For people living or staying at the beach, Horne said, it's helpful to avoid throwing pet waste into yards or storm drains where it can wash into the water, and to avoid putting fats and oils down garbage disposals, where they can get into the sewage system and cause backups.

"Those are things individuals can do that would help greatly," Horne said.

The water was tested again Thursday, and the results will determine whether the beach reopens today.

Elley Polonkey and her children will be waiting. After spending 10 years abroad in England and Thailand, they arrived in Virginia Beach on Wednesday for a vacation.

"We're going to think of a non-beach plan at the beach," she said Thursday as the group headed down 27th Street, away from the water.

"Water park!" suggested Evie Johnson, 7.

Despite the inconvenience, Polonkey said she appreciates that Virginia has water standards. Not every beach does, she said.

"We were in Thailand," Polonkey said. "Who knows what we were swimming in?"

Elisabeth Hulette, 757-222-5097, elisabeth.hulette@pilotonline.com

Posted to: Environment Health News Virginia Beach Visitors

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2009 photo?

Come on Pilot, you've got to have a more recent photo of the oceanfront on file.


The water is so polluted you can not swim in it and your concern is an outdated photo. This may be why we have a dirty world.


The water is so polluted you can not swim in it and your concern is an outdated photo. This may be why we have a dirty world.

Sewer conditions at the

Sewer conditions at the oceanfront. Bet over development and high density has something to do with it. Leaky sewers?

I see a lot of dogs down

I see a lot of dogs down there at all times of day or night. Not just from 6 am to 10 am. It's becoming a sport to dodge all the smashed piles on the boardwalk. With all the recent rains (sh)it only has one place to go. With the Hilton, Ocean Beach Club, and Cavalier in that zone I hope Bruce will make some heads roll on city council, as he should. As far as I see there is no enforcement of the leash laws on the oceanfront. We're down there almost daily and never fail to see several dogs off leash or on, no matter the time of day. We're dog lovers and have two, but we're responsible and keep them off the beach in the summer.

Rosemary Wilson loves mutts

Rosemary Wilson loves mutts on the beach, including hers.

the fact that

you think that Brucie causes the powers to be to quake shows a problem that is deeper and more threatening then this water issue. He should not have any more impact then Mr. Lyons or the Vakos or anyone else. All of the hoteliers, are concerned and will address this with city council.

it's really disgusting

I'm a dog owner but I don't take fido to the beach in the summer. Coming from NJ is was unbelievable to me at first that they allow dogs on the beach at all. I was swimming with my daughter at Chic's one summer and I watched a guy scoop up his dog's crap and throw it into the bay - while we were swimming about 50 yards away! Incredible. This is a "vacation town" and they this stuff happen?

Say it isn't so!

Councilwoman Wilson NEVER sees any piles on her walks along the boardwalk. Works for her. If that decision wasn't just the dumbest one the VA Beach Council has made in the past year, I don't know what is.

Well, the blame lies solely

Well, the blame lies solely with dog owners and sewage leaks from aging infrastructure.

You can thank Rosemary Wilson for making the Boardwalk the new go-to spot to let your dog take a dump. She felt constrained by the current ordinance so she whined to her peers and Viola - instant revision to appease her.

Meanwhile, 10s of millions of $ are spent building along the Oceanfront and Laskin Rd corridor however VB can't spend an extra dollar to fix existing infrastructure.

hopping and a pooping

It wouldn't surprise me if swimmers (and surfers) are contributors to the high bacterial counts in our beach waters.

But like the number of sharks swimming near VB's shoreline, nobody's really saying.

And the people who are committing this act aren't saying either.

Add that to a few inevitable sewage leaks, those who refuse to scoop the poop, an unscrupulous commercial or recreational boat, a passing ship who tossed it's waste, and I'm surprised we don't have even more closings.

This is why I no longer swim. Too bad, I always wanted to run Ocean View's groins by swimming to next one. Kind of like the jettyhop.

This is unacceptable

the Bay and the ocean. Something is broken somewhere, political or systemic.


This bacterial problem is more than likely coming from Cargo Ships headed into the Chesapeake Bay. These nasty things dump their sewage into the Ocean all the time.

Just curious

If we are ranked one of the cleanest beaches in the U.S. how does our slice of the ocean stack up against the beaches in NJ, DE, MD, and NC. I assume they have dogs and birds there as well.
I would appreciate a more investigative article about this recurring problem.


I'm surprised no one has found a way to blame Norfolk (or one of the other cities in area) because all bad things that happen in wonderful VB can be traced to someplace else.

Okay, here goes....

Norfolk is sinking (see recent news stories), which is polluting the surrounding waterways and Chesapeake Bay. In turn these polluted waters are flowing into the Ocean and ruining our pristine Oceanfront beaches. But not to worry, Norfolk has a Chief Resilience Officer now to stem the flow.

actually it

is Norfolk's fault in a way. One of my friends was told by the environmental folks involved that it was probably a Navy Ship or large vessel who dumped in the ocean.... prevailing easterly winds brought it into shore.

Blame the dogs

Could it be people? Children? Toddlers? Adults?

I'll bet it was the cat!

Anybody watching that furry little @#$%^??!

Just wait until you put on your headphones.

City Council

How about taking a look at each and every Councilman those who voted to allow their colleague Rosemary Wilson, walk HER dog on the beach this year. First time ever. Kinda goes well with all the street bums NOW permitted to set up encampments on the boardwalk benches. Really a great site for tourists, yesiree. But, isn't it time for the Leader of the Dog Pack, Ms. Wilson, to go? I mean you go down to the beach but you can't go into the water? And how about the coliform bacteria in the sand? A lotta back-and-forth running to the Porta Pottys. Ugh!

unsafe for humans....yet

"3 turtles to be released at Va. Beach Oceanfront" at 31st street.

"advisory remains in effect from 22nd to 37th streets"

Knock...Knock...yo PETA? You awake, or are turtles not on your list? They do make good soup.

Bacterial pollution


its more than dog poop people

If anyone thinks this is caused mainly because of dog poop, you are crazy. This is "human" pollution -- our poop and lots more...


Still the best way to contract a septic infection. Bet they had an "undocumented" dump during some heavy rain.

to just visited Thailand

If you unwittingly bought tilapia or shrimp from Thailand you don't know what it was raised in either.



up to 10 pounds of similar bacteria upon and w/in each of us

Bacteria are everywhere, all the time. More e-coli in sands of the beach than water column, everytime. For resort area, too much concrete, not enough vegetation mitigate movement of bacteria to waters we favor. For NEnd, a dozen foxes/block w/that population growing, seen no bunny wabbits in years. Sky rats, pigeons/sea gulls, stable populations, why the closures now? Testing - gotcha. Snapshot in time. When the bottle is capped and cooled, the offending bugs are diluted and consumed by bigger critters. By the time results are in, the issue is gone unless persistent source remains. Utility conflict? Straight pipe? Maybe the 60 MGD treated sewage discharge 1 mile off Dam Neck? Dogs? On a good day, mine's a 3 bagger, all to the can. Go Surf!

Sneaky human poopers are far worse than all the dogs

Consider the sheer number of VB swimmers on a good day. Walking all the way to a restroom with a small child or GI tract squeeze across hundreds of yards of sand in public and take the risk of losing it, in full view?

Not everyone, especially children, will chance it when they can sneak one under water. Ever seen a floater in the water? Ever p in a pool? Probably not a dog.

People do more than swim in the ocean, despite what they claim, and contribute far more fecal matter than all the dogs poorly managed.

Bird Bathroom

The ocean is nothing but a fish toilet. The beach is nothing but a bird bathroom.
Runoff is partially the problem, ships contribute, and warm water temps all make the toxic stew.
Dogs and people pee- not so much.

We're all in trouble

If we can't keep the water clean and the beaches open, we are all in trouble! Though we may not ever know why this particular event occurred, we do know that pet and human waste contribute to the bacteria in water. Those are two things WE can control, so let's do it. In addition to bagging our pet waste when we're walking our dogs, we need to pick up after our pets in our own yard too, so it doesn't wash off into the storm drains. There are many ways to help our sanitary system work more efficiently too. I pretty much stopped using my garbage disposal due to concerns of grease build up in the downstream sanitary sewer pipes which may cause backups. Of course we need watchdog groups too, but we can fix this problem! I hope we do.

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