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Swimming Safety Reminders
Written by Ron Smith
Swimming Hole Safety:
We want to make sure that readers know the Benton County Health Department is not endorsing any of the local rivers our lakes as "safe" to swim in. Benton County Environmental Health regulates public swimming pools. Owners are required to close the pools if there are any safety hazards, if there is not enough residual chlorination or if the water becomes too cloudy.
We do not have a program for regulating the safety of swimming holes although we do monitor the information available on surface water quality in the area. The Department of Environmental Quality is the state agency responsible for surface water quality and samples the rivers on a regular basis. DEQ notifies this office of spills or sewage bypasses upriver. We in turn help in notifying the news media. We have participated in news media announcements, but have not posted any swimming holes recently. The only warning signs have been in ditches in health hazard areas. Although we respond to complaints, we do not routinely sample and monitor swimming holes. We do plan to include swimming recreation areas in our Environmental Assessment Priority List to keep a record of what information is available, but the public must use their own judgment when swimming outdoors.
We are aware of a number of risks in this area: Rivers and lakes are often not clear enough to see the bottom creating a safety risk for diving and a safety risk for not being able to see anyone underwater. Many of the sites have broken glass and other litter, which creates additional safety risk.
Water quality in outdoor streams and lakes is not controlled by disinfection. Although streams vary in the degree they are usually contaminated, even the cleanest stream or lake have some contamination so should not be used for drinking water. Outbreaks caused by babies in diapers have occurred on the Upper Calapooia River and Blue Lake near Portland. Human and animal waste is often found near natural swimming holes.
Here are some suggestions that have been around awhile for safety and health while swimming in natural areas to minimize risk:
     If you can't see the bottom, don't dive in. Make sure you know the depth and whether there are any
          underwater hazards before letting non-swimmers inton the water.

      Wear sneakers or sandals to protect your feet from glass.

      Be aware of currents at any level.   

      Alcohol and overeating can cause problems.

      Try to keep the water out of your mouth. Don't drink untreated water.

      Goggles can protect your eyes.

      Wearing a wet bathing suit for extended periods can lead to schistosomiasis (swimmer's itch). Showering
           after swimming helps.

      Waterproof sunscreen lotions can reduce risk of skin cancer caused by increasing ultraviolet levels.

      Skin cancer from increasing ultraviolet let levels are increasing so Advisories are posted if spills occur.
           Contact the DEQ or the county health department if you have questions. Let us know if you find
           problems or concerns at the swimming holes.
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