Health officials warn about dangerous levels of E. coli in local - WNEM TV 5

Health officials warn about dangerous levels of E. coli in local river

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ALMA, MI (WNEM) -

More problems for a river with a history of problems.

Pine River in Gratiot County was contaminated for decades because of a chemical plant that's now gone. But once again, people are being told the water is too dangerous for fishing, and swimming.

The first day of fall provided perfect weather to be on the water, but looks can be deceiving. On Wednesday evening, Donna Cater watched people fish the Pine River in Alma. She said the bench she was sitting on is the closest she'd get to the water.

"I don't want any part of it, even touching the water, you know, because of what's in there, it's nasty," Cater said.

Both the Mid-Michigan District Health Department and a biologist at Alma College are warning people to not touch the water.

"The fact is this river today is at a place where you should not even be picking a fish out of it," said Doctor Tim Keeton, a biologist at Alma College.

Keeton said E. coli levels are dangerously high and any exposure could be a health risk. The vegetation and algae build-up on the river are the clues to a serious problem that he said is only getting worse.

"We've got science that's telling us this is trouble and we really should be doing something about it now," Keeton said.

He said the most likely source is from manure and fertilizer that runs off fields, but he believes human feces also drain into the river from older, rural homes with no septic systems.

Gary Rayburn lives on the river and recently started up the "Healthy Pine River" group in hopes of starting a grassroots campaign to address some of the issues that are polluting the water. He said this potentially harmful river needs to be cleaned up.

"Decided enough was enough because every year the river was becoming worse and worse," Rayburn said.

The Mid-Michigan District Health Department tells TV5 that it, along with the city of Alma, could put up signs as early as Thursday to warn people of the dangers.

While Keeton says the Pine River is showing the worst signs of E. coli, the problem exists in many of the state rivers, and he believes this is a problem that must be tackled.

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