BRIDGTON — The town plans to remove sinks from the Woods Pond beach restroom because sink water failed a bacteria test conducted after reports that beachgoers got sick last week. But what caused dozens of people to fall ill after swimming in the lake remains unclear.

A spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services said the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention had received over 60 reports of illness associated with Woods Pond, and an investigation is ongoing.

Town Manager Robert Peabody closed the beach last Friday after the CDC notified the town of reports of stomach-related illnesses from people who had been swimming there on July 2 through July 6.

In a prepared statement Tuesday, the town said the beach was being reopened immediately after water testing conducted Monday by the Paris Utility District found trace, acceptable levels of E. coli bacteria in the lake water. The statement said the acceptable limit is 235 E. coli per 100 milliliters of water and the test found 3 per 100 milliliters.

BATHROOM SINKS TO BE REMOVED

The statement also said a sample of water taken from the beach’s bathroom sink faucet, which had already been labeled not suitable for drinking, failed a test. Test results provided by the town showed 1 E. coli per 100 milliliters and 41 coliform in the sink water sample, neither of which is acceptable for drinking water.

Peabody said that although the sink water was marked as non-drinking, the water supply has been shut off and they will now be removed from the roughly year-old bathroom as an extra precaution.

Despite the test results, questions remain for people who didn’t use the beach restroom but still got sick.

Bridgton resident Michelle McDougall said her family goes to the Woods Pond beach “all the time,” including three trips last week.

She and her husband did not get sick, but her 11-year old daughter did, developing stomach problems on July 5 that lasted about a day and a half. McDougall’s cousin and her cousin’s three grandchildren also fell ill after joining them at the pond July 3, McDougall said, adding that some used the beach bathroom and some didn’t.

“She didn’t use the bathroom at all,” McDougall said of her daughter’s day at the pond.

Alanna Doughty, an educator at the Bridgton-based Lakes Environmental Association, said her daughter got sick after being at the pond last Friday, and that her stomach illness lasted less than 24 hours.

Association executive director Colin Holme said the organization has been monitoring Woods Pond for at least 30 years to study long-term water quality trends.

The association website lists the more than 450-acre water body as a “moderate concern” because of high phosphorus and depleted dissolved oxygen levels. Woods Pond had been listed as a moderate/high concern until recently, because phosphorus levels have improved.

BACTERIA, NOT UNHEALTHY LAKE

While Holme emphasized that the association was not involved in the most recent Woods Pond testing and does not conduct that sort of bacterial testing, he speculated Monday before the test results were in that the recent issue is “likely related to bacteria” and not related to the long-term health of the lake.

“By the time you get the results, the problem may have gone away,” Holme said. “We do know that when you have more people at a beach, generally bacteria levels go up.”

Len Swart, who owns a house directly across from the Woods Pond beach, said there were an “unusual number of people here on the Fourth (of July).”

She thinks the town could have done a better job of handling the situation, but said she understands that things like this can happen.

It might be a few weeks, but McDougall said her family “definitely will go back” to Woods Pond because “it’s one of our favorite ones to go to.”

The town has not conducted regular water testing at that beach, but Peabody said there has already been some discussion about starting a testing regimen.

Matt Junker can be contacted at 781-3661, ext. 123, or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @MattJunker

Read this story in Lakes Region Weekly.

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