Presence of E. coli closes Bridgton beach

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BRIDGTON — The town has closed Highland Lake Beach to swimming after multiple tests found unacceptable levels of E. Coli.

The beach was closed to swimming immediately but remains open for picnicking and boat launch use, according to an announcement on the town’s Facebook page. Swimming lessons usually held at the Highland Lake Beach are being moved to another town beach at Salmon Point.

Town Manager Robert Peabody said by phone Tuesday that he was not aware of any reported illnesses related to Highland Lake. The decision to close the beach came after two failed bacteria tests – one on Friday, July 27, and one on Monday, July 30, Peabody said.

E. coli, or Escherichia coli, are a large and diverse group of bacteria present in the environment, food and intestines of both people in animals, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says that “most strains of E. coli are harmless,” but others can cause illness including diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory problems and pneumonia.

According to Peabody, the town instituted weekly water testing at its public beaches after a separate issue at the town beach on Woods Pond, where the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that a slew of nearly 100 reported cases of illness in early July were caused by a norovirus outbreak.

Peabody said that the failed test on Friday did not warrant closing the beach last week because one failed test does not necessarily indicate an ongoing problem.

“You can have fluctuations from day to day,” Peabody said.

He said that after discussions with the Paris Utility District, which conducts the testing, the town decided it would close beaches after two failed tests. The town was unable to conduct testing over the weekend because the utility district is not open, he added.

The acceptable level for E. coli is 235, Peabody said, and the Highland Lake beach tested at unacceptable levels of 280 and 291.

The town announcement said that the cause of the E. coli remained unknown as of Tuesday morning, but speculated that fowl and low water levels “may have played a role.”

Highland Lake Beach water samples were taken again Tuesday and sent to the Paris Utility District to be tested. The town plans to provide an update on those test results by the end of the day Wednesday.

Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or mjunker@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.

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