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Digging in sand can increase health problems

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Digging in beach sand might be hazardous to your health.

A study by the Environmental Protection Agency and University at North Carolina at Chapel Hill found those who dig in the sand have an increased chance of gastrointestinal problems, such as diarrhea, due to fecal matter in the sand. Children are especially vulnerable because they tend to put sand, and their hands, in their mouths.

The beach tradition of getting buried in sand put beachgoers at an even bigger risk than those who just dug in the sand, according to the study.

Researchers interviewed more than 27,000 people over four years at seven beaches on the Great Lakes, the Gulf Coast, and in Rhode Island, choosing sites where solid waste was discharged within 7 miles.

In follow-up interviews with participants days after their beach visit, researchers found evidence of gastrointestinal illnesses, upper respiratory illnesses, rash, eye ailments, earache and infected cuts.

Diarrhea and other gastrointestinal illnesses were more common in about 13 percent of people who reported digging in sand, and in about 23 percent of those who reported being buried in sand

Long Island has several outfall pipes that discharge to water near bathing beaches.

"We've known about water-associated illnesses for some time," said Chris Heaney, a postdoctoral epidemiology student at UNC's Gillings School of Global Public Health, and the study's lead author. "And we have known for some time that there are fecal indicators in sand in high density. Ours is the first study to look at the contact between the sand and people."

The study looked for other illnesses, such as respiratory problems, said Heaney, but the strongest correlation was with gastrointestinal illness.

The findings won't keep Heaney from enjoying the beach and he doesn't want anyone else to stay away, either. Just take precautions after playing in the sand or water, he said.

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