Many boats were seen out on the lake Saturday afternoon, with boaters enjoying warm temperatures and a holiday weekend. Last year was a great year for Grand Lake St. Marys. Sam Shriver / The Lima News
Photo: Sam Shriver
Photo: Sam Shriver

Water safety important as July 4th holiday approaches

Health officials are warning as the Fourth of July approaches, and many families are looking forward to spending time in the water, to be aware of the dangers of swimming.

About one child dies per day in the United States due to accidental drowning in a lake, pool or spa, the majority of which occur at home, according to a recent report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The Dayton region has had a number drownings in the past three month in area ponds and lakes.

The number one rule for water safety? Pay attention, Greene County Public Health Program Manager Richard Schairbaum said.

From 2014 to 2016, 59 percent of fatal drownings were caused by “lost contact or knowledge of whereabouts,” according to the CPSC report. Even though adults may be nearby, it is vitally important that children are actively supervised while in the water, Schairbaum said. Even just scrolling on a phone or talking with other adults could cause a parent not to see their child in distress.

“Even if the lifeguard is present, there still should be (an adult) who’s a designated Water Watcher,” Schairbaum said. “Things can happen in an instant. It’s really, really important that parents are not distracted by other things.”

Parents should designate an adult to watch children while they swim, have an emergency plan and keep a charged phone close by at all times.

Additionally, children should be taught how to swim and practice important water survival skills like treading water and propelling kicks before ever swimming independently, Beavercreek Aqua-Tots General Manager Brittany Haley said.

Haley said teaching young children these skills early is important because “water is everywhere.”

“The younger that you start them, the more capable they are,” Haley said. “It’s so important to do it earlier on because of the potential of what can happen when you’re in and around it … (kids) are curious creatures and they’re going to do what they find interesting at the time, whether or not that’s the good decision.”

This advice also applies to swimming in open water, but oceans, rivers, ponds and lakes pose other unique dangers, as well. Unlike pools, there is limited visibility in open water, so swimmers might not see hazards under the surface like rocks, logs and changes of depth in the water.

“There are things that you don’t anticipate or account for,” Schairbaum said. “Not a lot of alligators around here, but you know things live in the water. Just natural things that occur in ponds and streams and things like that, that you would not see in a pool. All of those are potential hazards.”

Rip currents, or strong currents of water that flow away from the shore, can form at any beach with breaking waves, including the Great Lakes.

Rip currents can quickly pull swimmers out into deeper water, typically traveling 1 to 2 feet per second, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NOAA advises swimmers caught in a rip current to swim horizontally along the shoreline, rather than swim against the flow, until it is possible to swim back to shore.

Sunburn and heat illnesses, like heat stroke and heat exhaustion, are also factors to consider during a day at the beach. Salty food, shade and lots of fluid is recommended to stay hydrated.

Some natural bodies of water could be contaminated and unsafe to swim in. Cyanobacteria, found naturally in surface water, can multiply to form Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) that can potentially produce toxins capable of causing illness, irritation and sometimes even death in pets and humans, according to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

For example, Grand Lake St. Marys State Park in Celina has been under an Elevated Recreational Public Health Advisory since February, meaning that algal toxins from HABs have been detected at unsafe levels and contact with the water is unadvised by the Ohio EPA.

Additionally, agricultural runoff from farms could carry with it fertilizer and fecal matter from livestock, which could contaminate water with harmful chemicals and bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella.

Schairbaum recommends swimming only in natural bodies of water that are regularly monitored for contaminants. Ohio water quality advisories can be found using the Ohio Department of Health’s BeachGuard program.

Schairbaum also has one more tip: common sense.

“So many things can be prevented by just using just good common sense and just having some basic tools in your toolbox,” Schairbaum said.

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