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River bacteria remain mystery
State and local government officials, along with residents, gather at Fairview Beach to try to figure out what's causing water contamination

Date published: 9/21/2012


Officials haven't figured out what's causing contamination at Fairview Beach, but they are rallying the troops to try to pinpoint the problem.

Yesterday, 16 local and state government representatives, along with four people from the Fairview Beach Residents Association, sat around a table at the village's firehouse.

They talked for almost 3 hours about water samples and swimming advisories that have been posted regularly since 2004, warning people to stay out of the Potomac River at the King George County beach because of high levels of bacteria.

The group also heard about the efforts of Fairview Beach residents Herb Cover and Janet Harrover, who took 179 water samples this swimming season and last.

Cover said he was tired of having the same conversation with people outside the beach. Someone would ask about weekend plans, then cringe when he said he wanted to enjoy the water at Fairview Beach.

"That dirty place?" is how they'd respond, Cover said. "I want to correct that, if there's anything we can do."


The group agreed there's still no proof of what's producing high levels of waterborne bacteria that can cause eye and ear infections and gastrointestinal illness.

But those gathered did agree that one drainpipe, which runs from the far end of a trailer park near State Route 218 to about 400 feet from a waterfront restaurant, warranted more research.

"The concrete pipe does seem to be a big contributor, but we don't really know what's going on with it," said James Beckley, a quality assurance coordinator with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality in Richmond.

He's the one who taught Fairview Beach residents how to do the home tests, which are about one-tenth the cost of a lab test.

Residents gather water from the river or from streams and pipes that run into it in sterile bottles. They mix it with a substance to create a gel and spread it on a Petri dish.

Then, they count the number of dark-blue and purple dots to determine how many colonies of E. coli bacteria are present.

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