Elevated Bacteria Leads to Riis Park Water Closures

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On Wednesday, August 21, the National Park Service (NPS) put out an alert on Gateway National Recreation Area’s social media accounts that Riis Parks’ beaches were closed to swimmers. “The beach is open, but visitors will not be able to swim in the water. This is due to elevated bacteria in the water,” the message read.

Beachgoers who approached the Riis Park parking lot to start their beach day were also given the warning, forcing some to change their plans for the day. However, while the federal beach was closed to swimmers, NYC’s beaches, including Rockaway Beach, which is adjacent to Riis Park at Beach 149th Street, remained open.

The Rockaway Times reached out to NPS for more information. “This was based on water testing. The level of enterococcus bacteria is above acceptable levels," a spokeswoman said. According to research, “enterococci bacteria are normally found within the intestinal tract of human and animals, and indicate fecal pollution from stormwater, pets and human sewage. High concentrations of the bacteria, if ingested while swimming, or entering the skin through an open cut, can cause human disease, infections or rashes.”

The Rockaway Times notified the NYC Department of Health of NPS’ update, which hadn’t heard of the federal agency’s alert. This promoted DOH to coordinate with NPS to investigate. According to early investigations, the issue seemed to be isolated to one area of Riis Park and had not spread to the rest of Rockaway’s beaches. Both NPS and DOH said they were conducting further testing within their respective agencies to see if further beach closures would be required. As we go to press, it is not clear if Riis Park’s waters would be closed on Thursday, August 22.

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