Ashfield Lake, beach reopen after week-long closure for high E. coli levels

  • After being closed for a week following testing that showed unsafe levels of E. coli in the water, the town beach at Ashfield Lake is open again. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • After being closed for a week following testing that showed unsafe levels of E. coli in the water, the town beach at Ashfield Lake is open again. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • After being closed for a week following testing that showed unsafe levels of E. coli in the water, the town beach at Ashfield Lake is open again. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/13/2020 3:58:58 PM

ASHFIELD — After being closed for a week following testing that showed unsafe levels of E. coli in the water, the town beach at Ashfield Lake is open again.

According to Ashfield Health Agent Claudia Lucas, the lake water is tested weekly by Howard Laboratories in Hatfield. She said the beach closed for a week after the Aug. 6 test because high levels of E. coli could pose a public health safety hazard, possibly causing a harmful reaction if the bacteria were to come in contact with a person’s skin.

Updates posted to the Ashfield Town Beach & Park Facebook page state that the Aug. 6 sample showed 608 E. coli colony forming units (CFUs) per 100 milliliters of sample. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s limit for safe swimming is 235 CFUs per 100 milliliters. A full copy of the test results was posted on the bulletin board at the beach for public knowledge.

Another test, taken Aug. 12, showed that levels of E. coli had decreased to safe levels, so the Board of Health reopened the beach for visitors. The board is still encouraging residents to follow COVID-19 health safety protocols, and not park on the road.

Given the summer’s weather conditions, Lucas said increased levels of bacteria aren’t too surprising.

“It’s not unusual to see this when we’ve been in drought conditions and then we get a heavy rain,” Lucas explained.

She said E. coli levels increase after heavy rains because soil sediments wash into the lake, and the runoff can contribute to increased bacteria levels. Likewise, Puffer’s Pond in Amherst was closed for unsafe levels of E. coli earlier this summer.

“Earlier this year, there was also concern of a toxic algae bloom in the (Ashfield) lake, which can occur under similar conditions,” Lucas added.

Testing for the toxic algae bloom proved the lake to be safe, however. Lucas said the town had to contract with a lab from Connecticut because there are not any labs in Massachusetts that test for the algae bloom. Fortunately, Lucas said this lab provided Ashfield with extra equipment, so officials can collect and send samples to the lab should they need to test for another possible toxic algae bloom.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.



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