COLUMBIA — E. coli levels in Flat Branch were measured Tuesday at nearly nine times higher than suggested Environmental Protection Agency standards for recreational use.
Starting in May each year, Public Health and Human Services Department staff members collect water from lakes and creeks and tests for E. coli. The EPA suggests that the bacteria not exceed 126 per 100 milliliters.
Signs posted around the creek were erected Friday, said Genalee Alexander, Health Department spokeswoman. These signs were put up after five high samples were obtained from the creek, and will stay up as long as there are high test results, she said.
E. coli is naturally forming, and higher levels mean waste, said Mike Heimos, stormwater educator for the Columbia Public Works Department.
Pet waste might be to blame for high numbers, as many owners do not pick up after their pets, he said.
Heimos said that the watershed, or water runoff, from downtown and MU flows into Flat Branch. The water picks up pollutants that go straight into the stream system. These pollutants can include pet waste, paint, pesticides and many others.
"If you're a pet owner, pick up after your pet," Heimos said.
He said pet waste is a common pollutant and is as toxic as human waste. Pet waste has been an issue in the past and is not exclusive to Columbia, he said.
By simply walking past the creek, there is no immediate danger, he said.
Alexander suggests that people not play in the water.
"Certainly don't ingest it," she said.
Supervising editor is Jake Kreinberg.