New Board of Health discusses beach testing, air quality, transfer station

The new Board of Health met for the first time on Tuesday, July 11, with Tom McMahon, who was elected last month. McMahon started the meeting by stating that member Helaine Hazlett should not be nominated as the new chair.

“Me and Helaine have a little tension between us right now, some trust issues,” McMahon said. “I think the chair should show leadership qualities… One that comes to mind is doing what everyone else is supposed to do, adding a [transfer station] sticker to your car to use the facilities is a big one.”

Board member Joanne Miller defended Hazlett. “Helaine is fiercely devoted to the community. I think that she brings so much experience … and a great deal of expertise.”

“I think a great step would be to put the sticker on the car tonight,” McMahon repeated.

Hazlett was elected chair and Miller vice chair.

Transfer station trailer

In the 30-minute meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve a goal to replace the transfer station’s trailer (where several employees work) with a newer trailer in August or September, when a new trash compactor is installed.

Tom McMahon joined his first Board of Health Meeting on July 11. CURRENT PHOTO / LEIGH BLANDER

“I want to thank the board for considering replacing that trailer,” said Terri Tauro of Jersey Street during public comment. “It’s seven years old. Another winter in that trailer could be scary. It’s just weakening over the years. I think the employees will be really happy that that’s being done for them.”

Beach testing

Public Health Dir. Andrew Petty addressed the 50 beach closings across Massachusetts recently and explained the town’s process for testing water at swimming beaches in town, including Devereux, Crocker Park, Grace Oliver’s, Gas House, Stramski and Sunset (at the end of Village Street).

Water samples are taken every Wednesday, no more than one hour before or after high tide, and sent to a lab.

“We’re testing for the bacteria enterococci,” Petty explained, adding that the maximum safe level is 104. “We have generally been less than 10 for most of our beaches.”

So far this summer, all testing has been within safe limits.

Petty said if he gets a failing sample, he’s allowed to keep a beach open until a re-test is completed —except at Grace Oliver’s. After one bad sample there, he needs to close the beach until he receives a passing test.

The town will post a No Swimming sign if a beach is closed due to high bacteria counts. Petty will also post to the town website and alert town departments, including the Marblehead Police which will post to its Facebook page.

People can always check for beach closings.

Last summer, Gas House was closed for 19 days and Grace Oliver’s was closed for 14 days.

Bacteria in ocean water can come from several soruces, Petty said, including stormwater runoff, sanitary sewer overflow, leaking sewer pipes, illegal sewer hookups, and wildlife and pet waste.

Local air quality

Petty also spoke about air quality, in the wake of the smoke from Canadian wildfires this summer. He says there are three air quality monitors placed around town (at the transfer station and two fire stations) to test for particulate matter and other pollutants. Live air quality results are available HERE.

The Board of Health meets next on August 7 at 7:30 p.m.

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Editor Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter.

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