As hundreds of people prepare to participate in the annual Great Chesapeake Bay Swim on Sunday, Anne Arundel County health officials have issued an advisory warning people of potentially dangerous levels of bacteria in the water because of storm runoff.
With rain all day Friday, the Health Department issued a pre-emptive advisory through Sunday and urged race participants to take precautions. Public health officials say people with compromised immune systems or certain conditions, including ear infections, perforated eardrums, open cuts, scratches or skin lesions, should not swim in county waters through Sunday.
Health Department spokeswoman Elin Jones said high levels of bacteria can worsen infections and cause gastrointestinal problems.
For those who participate in the swim, "we just want people to take certain precautions," she said, such as making sure that cuts are properly bandaged and washing themselves with soap and water as soon as possible afterward.
The annual 4.4-mile event, which starts at Sandy Point State Park near Annapolis, is billed as one of the nation's premier open-water distance swims. It raises money for the Maryland chapter of the March of Dimes and other charitable organizations.
About 650 people are expected to participate, race director Chuck Nabit said. And 450 plan to swim in a 1-mile event, he said.
Nabit said he was not concerned about the water-quality warning.
"Water quality is something that is inherently not within my ability to control, any more than water temperature or the sun shining or not. I will certainly mention it at the pre-race meeting," he said. "My guess is that not a single person will choose not to swim. They train for months and months and months."
In a statement, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which lobbied for stormwater management fees, called it "unfortunate that runoff from storms, and the pollution it carries, can disrupt our weekend plans."