Rumors of potentially dangerous bacteria polluting the Crim Dell have recently spread around the College of William and Mary campus, causing students to worry about participating in the triathlon and prompting testing by College faculty.
But, according to scientific testing, there is nothing to be concerned about.
“The Crim Dell is in good shape,” Keck Environmental Field Lab Director Dr. Randy Chambers said.
In response to concerns, Chambers conducted several tests around the Crim Dell for fecal coliform, a bacteria originating from feces. He collected 3-ml cultures from the inlet under the Sunken Garden, the inlet from the Sadler Center and the outlet of the Crim Dell itself.
The culture from the Sunken Garden showed no evidence of fecal coliform, while the cultures from Sadler and the outlet showed only 33 fecal coliform bacteria per 100-ml sample of water.
“This isn’t really a concern,” Chambers said. “According to the state, any fewer than 260 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 ml is both swimmable and fishable.”
Chambers quelled any remaining suspicions about the small amount of fecal coliform in the Crim Dell.
“Fecal coliform is not actually dangerous to humans, it is just an indicator of other diseases like hepatitis or salmonella,” Chambers said.
The presence of fecal coliform, which comes from animal excrement, reveals only the possibility that hepatitis and salmonella are present.
In order for such diseases to be present, the animal feces from which these bacteria come would have had to contain these diseases before entering the contaminated water.
Designed specifically to hold storm water and runoff, the Crim Dell and its subsidiaries do receive some excrement flushed in by rainwater.
According to Chambers this small, inconsistent amount of bacteria is not enough to cause any serious harm to people who come in contact with water from the Crim Dell.
Even if it were, the ponds tend to regenerate, rinsing out and killing bacteria quickly, often within a day.
“I’m not condoning it, but if you’re going to do [the triathlon], I’d be more worried about getting stuck on a submerged tree branch than about fecal coliform,” Chambers said.