New research has found beach sand – not just water – can harbor illness-causing microbes, but there are currently no safety standards for sand quality.
Environmental scientists from the University of Miami and Northern Illinois University, however, are hoping to change that fact. They have developed a reference guide to help assess risk of illness from sand at recreational sites
The guide for potentially harmful germs in sand -- detailed in a report published in the American Chemical Society journal Environmental Science & Technology – is similar to the guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for marine water.
"These values can be used by beach managers to make decisions concerning sand quality," said Helena Solo-Gabriele, a professor at the UM College of Engineering and principal investigator of the project. "
Research has shown dogs, birds and cats are common sources of bacteria in beach sand. Disease-causing bacteria from sewage can also cause skin infections and gastrointestinal disorders.
Solo-Gabriele said the research project was designed to determine what levels of bacteria found in beach sand could pose a health risk for beachgoers.
To develop the guidelines, the scientists ran one million simulations of the number of microbes in each gram of sand, and how sand might be ingested by beachgoers through hand-to-mouth behaviors. The researchers calculated how high bacteria levels would have to be for the risk of having 19 cases of bacterial infection per 1,000 beachgoers -- the level used by the EPA for swimming in marine recreational waters.