What’s at stake at the lake?

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Montse Ramirez
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Droplets of sweat assemble above his eyebrows and run down his cheekbones. His breathing becomes labored as he tries to take in as much oxygen as he can from the humid atmosphere and he is acutely aware of his ever-climbing temperature.

The Air Force Global Strike Command member decides (unwisely) the best course of action is to take a dive in the sparkling body of water in front of him known as the base lake. This is an idea he may soon come to regret.

Contrary to popular belief, the base lake is not a swimming amenity; its sole purpose is to sit there and look pretty.

According to 1st Lt. Kenneth Kirk, 509th Medical Operations Squadron bioenvironmental engineer, there are several safety reasons why people shouldn't swim in the base lake.

"There are no lifeguards on duty, making it unsafe, especially for children," Lieutenant Kirk said. "More importantly, there have not been any environmental tests performed on the lake to see if it would pass for a natural bathing area. Some lakes in the area are not swimmable due to run-offs, mercury levels, e-coli issues and even animal feces," he said.

Common diseases associated with natural bodies of water that have not been cleared or tested as natural bathing areas are schistosomiasis, leptospirosis and meiningitis, according to Lieutenant Kirk.

Schistosomiasis is a disease caused by parasites that enter humans by attaching to the skin and migrating to the venous system, eventually giving the person symptoms of acute or chronic fever, abdominal discomfort or blood in stools, according to www.medicinenet.com.

The website said Leptospirosis is an infectious disease transmitted by animals such as rats, skunks, raccoons and other vermin. The disease is transmitted through contact with water contaminated by the waste products of an infected animal.

Symptoms of the illness typically progresses through two phases, the website explained. The first phase of nonspecific flu-like symptoms includes headaches and muscle aches, followed by chills and fever. The second phase begins after a few days of feeling well, with recurring fever and aching. Some patients develop inflammation of the nerves of the eyes, brain and spinal column.

Lieutenant Kirk said the main disease-causing agent in a lake is the occurrence of chemical runoffs. Chemical runoffs occur when pollutants are being carried into a waterway.

To put it in perspective, patrons could be exposing themselves to a chemical runoff similar to the concept of the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but on a smaller scale. The BP oil company spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil and caused extensive damage to marine wildlife. Later that year, 4,200 square miles of the Gulf were closed to shrimping and fishing.

Here, fishing is not prohibited. However, there is a catch and release principle for all marine life due to potential contamination.

So, next time you or your children have an overwhelming desire to jump in a stagnant lake on a hot summer day or to eat the day's catch, think back and consider the possible threats first.