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


A local river, with a history of pollution, has E. coli levels so high, residents are being warned not to even touch it.

Markus Cheatham, a health officer for the Mid-Michigan district health department said the levels are as high as they ever find.

But why is the Pine River in Gratiot County so dangerous? Cheatham said they've tested the DNA of the bacteria in the river and think they have the answer.

“And it's about 80 percent cattle. Agriculture is really booming in Mid-Michigan,” Cheatham said. “We're putting more and more animals on the land than ever before, and that manure has to go somewhere. It's going in our rivers.”

Runoff from an increased number of farms in the area is mostly to blame, but that still leaves the other 20 percent of bacteria.

This is where things get really gross: it's human feces.

“We put a lot of septic tanks in the ground a generation ago, and they're getting old now,” Cheatham said. “Some of them are starting to fail. So we have an aging infrastructure problem.”

And the muck and bacteria in the river continue to grow with time.

But Cheatham said fixing the problems with the lake will take years, both in regulating animal waste, and cleaning up the old septic tanks.

“And the bottom line is, like everything else, it's going to cost money. If someone doesn't pay for these policy changes, and ten years from now, it'll be even worse,” Cheatham said.

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