DHEC: Swimming holes should be avoided

Environmentally Challenged: By Brian Troutman

If you're looking for a place to keep cool over the Memorial Day weekend and thinking about taking a dip in the river or a local swimming hole, you might want first consider the risks.

Gators can be found in many Lowcountry ponds, lakes, streams and water holes, but they may not be the biggest threat. Officials with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), say harmful, even deadly bacteria is often found in the water.

"We recommend that people swim in swimming pools or what we call permitted natural swimming areas," DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said.

There are no "permitted natural swimming areas" in Charleston or Dorchester counties. There are only a few in Berkeley.

Myrick said bacteria in the water can often cause gastrointestinal issues, nausea, vomiting and eye, nose and throat infections. Which is why DHEC encourages only swimming in pools or permitted areas.

Has this always been a problem?

What about the old days? Didn't people often swim in swimming holes in the old days?

Surprisingly, Myrick said the risk has always been there. He said it may have increased with population growth and urbanization, but that the chances of being exposed to harmful bacteria has always been a risk -- a risk you shouldn't take.

For those public swimming areas approved by DHEC, Myrick said water samples are regularly taken and tested. If bacteria is found, an alert is posted and swimming is discouraged until the issue has been naturally resolved.

Are the beaches a problem?

Myrick says South Carolina's beaches are generally pretty clean and are tested regularly. In the event something harmful is found, he said an alert is immediately posted. To view up-to-the-minute info on beach water quality, you can visit

* Read more of Web Producer Brian Troutman's thoughts on the environment. Visit his blog, Environmentally Challenged.