- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

Welcome to the lazy, hazy, germy days of summer. Despite the promise of balmy breezes and carefree afternoons, the nation does not get a vacation from its toxic fears.

Two warm weather staples get the scary stamp from scientists this year: Beware of fireworks and beach sand.

Well-meaning officials who shoot off holiday pyrotechnics over the local lake or river may be expose the citizenry to potential harm, say researchers from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the University of Oklahoma. As burning sparkles descend, they deposit perchlorate salts of potassium and ammonium in the water — chemicals that “may pose human risk.”

Percholate exposure can interfere with thyroid function, normal metabolism and mental processes, said EPA environmental scientist Richard Wilkin, who measured the percholates in several Oklahoma lakes before and after July Fourth fireworks in 2005 to 2006. The amount of the chemicals spiked up to 1,028 times the “baseline” measurement in some cases and remained in the water up to 80 days.

The concentration level also exceeded limitations for levels of percholates in drinking water, leaving Mr. Wilkin and his team to wonder about its damaging effect on ground and surface water, particularly in urban areas. They plan further tests.

Beach sand, meanwhile, can harbor E. coli bacteria, the culprit behind much-publicized outbreaks of primarily food-borne intestinal illness. More than 80 percent of the sand and sediment samples taken by biologists from the University of Minnesota from a waterfront beach on Lake Superior were “potentially pathogenic” to humans.

The researchers blamed the contamination on the Canada geese, gulls, terns and deer who share the beach with swimmers and strollers, noting that Salmonella and other harmful bacteria also lurked underfoot. They too call for further investigation.

The District-based Clean Beaches Council has conducted sand-contamination studies at six freshwater and marine beaches across the country that found E. coli in amounts up to 17 times that of the water. The bacteria in the sand, the group theorizes, is what pollutes water and prompts officials to close beaches.

And the beaches are already closing. Sandy sites in or around Lake Michigan, California and Galveston, Texas, have been closed because of high levels of bacteria. Even glamorous Malibu Beach has its woes, ranked No. 5 on the “Beach Bummer” list issued by a local environmental group charting California’s most polluted beaches.

June “bug” may never have the same connotations again as summer travel commences. The resurgence of bloodsucking bedbugs in hotels and accommodations around the world in the past year has inspired publications such as Travel & Leisure magazine to issue bedbug and lice alerts for warm weather revelers.

Trip Advisor, an online travel compendium of reviews and advice, maintains a “registry” for bedbug- and lice-infested hotels that is closing in on 10,000 entries.

“We were all bit and itched terribly,” noted one recent visitor to the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.

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