A year ago, high levels of E. coli in the Lake of the Ozarks went unreported over a busy holiday weekend, for reasons that are still debated. The Kansas City Star eventually reported on the failure to report the issue, and the apparent cover up. Who was to blame still depends on who you ask. It looks like some good has come of it though, as Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) now has a better reporting plan in place:
The Department of Natural Resources has overhauled the way it sends an alarm about E. coli, which the government calls a serious health hazard. Also, a task force has been formed to consider a centralized sewer district around the lake, where thousands of septic tanks overflow into the water.
Reporting E. coli levels in public swimming places is important. E. coli is the generic term for a family bacteria that includes E. coli O157:H7, and other pathogenic forms of E. coli. The pathogenic forms of E. coli cause severe foodpoisoning symptoms, including bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps. In some cases, especially in children and the elderly, it can lead to hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). HUS is a potentially fatal complication that can also cause permanent kidney damage.
Despite an increased awareness of the issue, the problem with the lake continues:
Recent readings show the E. coli problem has not gone away. Bacteria continues to spike, especially after rains wash feces into the lake. While one major beach there remains open this weekend, Public Beach 1 at Lake of the Ozarks State Park has now been closed for two weekends.
In addition, a new focus on wastewater treatment plants in Missouri has uncovered more problems, but has not led to widespread action:
Inspectors cited 208 violations at 154 treatment facilities and this spring began a second sweep. As of May 21, inspectors had gone back to 142 facilities and issued 70 additional citations. Some facilities voluntarily cleaned up their mess, state officials said. As for the rest, only two facilities have agreed to pay a total of $2,250 in penalties pending cleanup. Two others had $5,750 in penalties that were suspended pending the outcome of their cleanup.Only 26 cases so far have been referred to Attorney General Chris Koster for further action. The rest of the cases are pending, a DNR official said.
With summer just beginning, there is hope that the new warning system will at least keep swimmers away from the known dangerous locales.