Digging and playing in beach sand presents a greater risk of getting sick than does swimming or sun tanning, according to a new study led by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“Researchers surveyed some 5,000 beach visitors and found that those who dug in the most contaminated sand were twice as likely to fall ill with diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach aches,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “Those who had been buried in the sand showed an even greater tendency to get sick.”
Researchers for the EPA, the University of North Carolina, and Johns Hopkins University claim that polluted beach sand contains more pathogens (i.e. infectious agents) than the surf.
How did they reach this conclusion?
“Scientists made the sand-sickness correlation by taking 144 samples of wet sand from beaches in Fairhope, Ala., and Warwick, R.I., that are near waste-water outfalls, testing them for bacteria that indicate the presence of harmful viruses and pathogens,” the Times reports. “Researchers also asked beach visitors if they dug in the sand and swam in the water. Two weeks later, they called participants to see if they had gotten sick and what their symptoms were.”
Although scientists have claimed for years that swimming in waters polluted with sewage puts swimmers at risk for gastrointestinal illness, EPA researchers are the first to link similar ailments to polluted beach sand.
"The symptoms we observed are usually mild and should not deter people from enjoying the beach," said Timothy Wade, chief of the EPA's Environmental Public Health Division Epidemiology Branch and senior author of the study, in a news release.
"But they should consider washing their hands or using a hand sanitizer after playing in the sand or water," he added.
Based on the EPA's "polluted sand" report, and taking into consideration the fact that the agency has already said that sun tanning will kill us and that polluted water will poison us, we are starting to believe that maybe -- just maybe -- we shouldn't go anywhere near the beach . . . ever.
Introducing the EPA's 2012 swimsuit collection
(H/T: The Consumerist)