Source of contamination keeping N.J. bay beach closed remains a mystery

A 2015 image of the 5th Avenue bay beach in Seaside Park. (Justin Auciello/for WHYY)

A 2015 image of the 5th Avenue bay beach in Seaside Park. (Justin Auciello/for WHYY)

New Jersey environmental officials have not yet determined why bacteria continues to plague a beach along the Barnegat Bay in Ocean County.

The 5th Avenue beach in Seaside Park has been closed since last Wednesday due to a high level of enterococcus, a bacteria found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals that can cause urinary tract infections, bacteremia, bacterial endocarditis, diverticulitis, and meningitis.

Larry Hajna, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman, said the Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring continues to investigate.

The acceptable level is 104 colonies per 100 ml of water. According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, since the first closure day last week, testing samples have revealed greater than 600 colonies of enterococcus on multiple testing days.

Investigators collected water samples from the area yesterday, including nearby stormwater outfalls, areas with eelgrass and additional ambient water samples outside the monitored bathing area, according to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

The Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring’s Microbiological Lab is analyzing the samples for antibiotic resistance in an effort to determine the source of bacteria, officials said.

The Seaside Park beach, along with other nearby river and bay beaches, are historically susceptible to enterococcus accumulation after rainfall and associated storm runoff.

Beaches are closed if two consecutive samples collected at a bathing beach exceed the state standard and remain in effect until subsequent sampling indicates bacteria levels are again below the standard.

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