COLUMBIA — Although Flat Branch Creek tested for E. coli at nearly seven times the normal amount, the Health Department isn't too worried.
While appropriate E. coli levels are established as 126 parts bacteria per every 100 milliliters of water, the creek harbored roughly 866 parts bacteria when tested late last month.
Despite this seemingly daunting amount, real risk occurs only when people drink the water, said Genalee Alexander, a spokeswoman from the Public Health and Human Services Department.
"(Flat Branch Creek) is not an area where people swim," Alexander said. "You must ingest the water to be at risk. Even if you stick your toe in, you're still not at risk."
The very nature of the creek encourages high levels of bacteria, Alexander said.
"Many city blocks drain into the creek," she said. "Think of all the yards with animal feces. It gets into the drains."
In July, the Health Department placed a sign near the testing site to warn creek visitors of the potentially hazardous E. coli levels — the only precautionary measure taken, and probably the only one necessary to take, Alexander said.
"There's nothing we can do to change the drainage area into Flat Branch Creek," she said.