Ottawa County Health Department Beach Health Campaign

Submitted By

Kristina Wieghmink
County of Ottawa, Michigan
August 7, 2013

Public Health officials are concerned with water recreational illnesses to keep our communities healthy and safe. Ottawa County, Michigan has beautiful beaches! However, natural bodies of water contain microorganisms regardless of how clean or clear the waters look. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, germs that cause Recreational Water Illnesses are spread by swallowing, breathing in the mists or aerosols from, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, lakes, rivers, or oceans. Contaminates include rain and agricultural runoff, animal excrements, and faulty septic systems. The Ottawa County Health Department encourages residents to take preventive steps to minimize health risks and enjoy your summer break.

Public Health officials are concerned with water recreational illnesses to keep our communities healthy and safe. Ottawa County, Michigan has beautiful beaches! However, natural bodies of water contain microorganisms regardless of how clean or clear the waters look. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, germs that cause Recreational Water Illnesses are spread by swallowing, breathing in the mists or aerosols from, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, lakes, rivers, or oceans. Contaminates include rain and agricultural runoff, animal excrements, and faulty septic systems. The Ottawa County Health Department encourages residents to take preventive steps to minimize health risks and enjoy your summer break.

The Ottawa County Health Department (Michigan) has worked with the Great Lakes Restoration organization, with the support of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Water Resource Division Grant Program, under Award No. 2011-7211. Through this project, we have been able to promote and create a greater awareness to residents, tourists, and all other beach goers on preventive steps to reduce recreational water illnesses. Our key message on prevention includes the following points:

  • Do not swallow lake water and avoid getting water in your mouth.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before eating.
  • Take your kids on bathroom breaks and be sure young children wear clean swim diapers.
  • Do not swim when you are sick. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • Do not swim in water that appears murky, smells foul or looks polluted in any way.
  • Avoid swimming immediately after heavy rainfall.
  • Do not feed seagulls.
  • Shower when you return home.

We are still at the beginning stages of this particular campaign. So far to date, we have printed 25,000 informational rack cards and 200 posters (distributed to school and public beaches in our County and to the Michigan DOT Welcome Centers across the State), placed several local magazine and bus billboard advertisements, and sent out a news release to our local media. We hope in the near future to extend our advertising efforts through promotional product giveaways at community events, festivals, and the beach front, and purchase local movie theater commercial and radio advertisements. Through previous beach health and safety campaigns, we have developed our Beach Watch program. Water is tested for E. coli from 16 public beaches throughout the summer and the results are posted here on our beach watch website. Results are also posted to our Twitter and Facebook pages.

The Ottawa County Health Department beach health and safety campaign is noteworthy, due to its core messaging, to help prevent water recreation illnesses, which can be applicable to all other regions concerned with water quality. This campaign can be reproduced with any public beach or County Health Departments. In fact, since posting this campaign on the national BeachNet list serve, we’ve had numerous requests from organizations such as the CDC, University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Marquette County and Niagara Region Public Health to use our beach health and safety campaign promotional materials for distribution to other organizations and the public.

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