Monday, August 11, 2008

Old habits die hard

Douglas Manor, in Queens, New York, is known for its old-timers who swim in the salt water of the bay for their health. Many of these residents have been swimming in the bay for over fifty years, and locals claim that the neighborhood has had a tradition of swimming since the 1800s. Ironically, although the residents of Douglas Manor believe that swimming in the bay is good for their health, the bay actually has high levels of fecal contamination, and local health authorities often issue warnings against swimming in the bay after heavy rains. The stubborn old folks, known as the Floating Heads, often ignore these warnings and insist that "no one has ever gotten sick swimming in this bay" or that "the city posts the advisories for liability sake, so they can’t get sued if someone says they came down sick from swimming.” Other swimmers simply insist that they don't swallow the water while swimming. Is that sufficient to protect the body (especially an elderly body) against infection by fecal-borne microbes?

The Times article states that "Douglas Manor, an almost entirely residential area, is one of the few neighborhoods in the city without a sewer system. Opinions vary as to whether cesspools or sewers better contain sewage outflow to waterways during rainstorms." If only the Times could interview Joseph Bazalgette about the relative advantages of sewers versus cesspools.

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