Sandy Beach, the popular swimming destination on Greers Ferry Lake in Heber Springs, was closed to the public on Friday afternoon due to a positive test for E. coli in the water. The initial test by the Arkansas Department of Health showed a reading measuring 15 times the acceptable E. coli level, according to reports. Mayor Jackie McPherson was notified of the test results late Friday afternoon and the beach was immediately shut down. Law enforcement spent the weekend turning away crowds and explaining that the beach would be closed temporarily until further testing could be made.
According to Mayor McPherson, the beach will remain closed until two further consecutive readings can determine the accuracy of the initial test. Both follow-up tests were taken on Monday and Tuesday, though it could take as long as seven to ten days for the results to come back, so the beach will remain closed until those results are in. The extreme jump in the E. coli levels is highly unusual and could indicate that the initial test was faulty, according to some reports. McPherson also assured the community that the elevated E. coli levels are specific to Sandy Beach and are not affecting other areas on the lake.
According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta (CDC), "Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria normally live in the intestines of people and animals. Most E. coli are harmless and actually are an important part of a healthy human intestinal tract. However, some E. coli are pathogenic, meaning they can cause illness, either diarrhea or illness outside of the intestinal tract. The types of E. coli that can cause diarrhea can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with animals or persons." E. coli affects humans when it is swallowed. When contaminated feces, from animals such as geese, is in water and a swimmer then swallows that water, it can infect the person with the bacteria, causing them to get sick.
The mayor's office has reported that they are actively monitoring the situation at Sandy Beach and are working to get the results of the follow-up tests from the Health Department as fast as possible.