Michael Harthorne
A child plays near the Golden Gardens creek where it empties into Puget Sound. According to recent test results, the creek may contain harmful levels of fecal coliform.

Possible dangerous levels of fecal coliform at Golden Gardens

The fresh-water stream that feeds into Puget Sound at Golden Gardens contains fecal coliform at levels that could be harmful to humans, according to test results released by the Seattle chapter of Surfrider Foundation.

Surfrider Foundation is an international nonprofit focused on the health of oceans and beaches. According to Surfrider, bimonthly testing of the creek yielded levels of fecal coliform that are about four times the level deemed tolerable by Washington state regulations.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fecal coliform is not usually harmful itself, but it can indicate the presence of harmful pathogenic bacteria and viruses. Swimming and eating shellfish from an area with high levels of fecal coliform may pose a health risk, according to the agency.

Abby McCarthy, task coordinator for Surfrider Foundation's Blue Water Task Force, which conducted the tests, people can get various diseseases, such as E. coli and Giardia, from water with high levels of fecal coliform.

"You can get all kinds of sick," McCarthy said.

Joelle Hammerstad, spokesperson for Seattle Parks and Recreation, which maintains Golden Gardens, said the department was not aware of the ongoing testing or the results until media reports early June 22.

Parks posted temporary signs near Golden Gardens creek warning of the danger posed by bacteria and wildlife in the creek after hearing the results. Permanent signs, which were planned prior to the test results, are under construction, Hammerstad said.

Hammerstad said the city partners with a state agency to test swimming beaches. The city also conducts tests of other urban creeks, though not the creek at Golden Gardens.

The city has never had anyone report an illness to themselves or a family member as a result of contact with the Golden Gardens creek, Hammerstad said.

Seattle Public Utilities is partnering with Parks to investigate any potential unnatural causes of the fecal coliform levels June 23. The results of the investigation should be confirmed by the end of the week, Hammerstad said.

McCarthy said Surfrider Foundation wants to figure out the source of the fecal coliform and clean out the creek. She said she thinks the foundation will be able to work with King County Public Health and Parks to accomplish that.

Hammerstad said Parks began a relationship with Surfrider Foundation a few weeks ago to create the signage warning of dangers posed by bacteria and wildlife in urban creeks. Surfrider pulled out of the project June 17 because it did not feel the language on the signs was strong enough, Hammerstad said.

Surfrider Foundation's Blue Water Task Force, the group was established to provide opportunities for involvement with environmental problem solving, determine pollution patterns in coastal waters, raise public awareness of coastal water pollution, and bring polluters into compliance, according to the Surfrider Foundation Seattle chapter website.

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