June 16, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Faster test for E. coli tried at Metropark

State Rep. Anthony Forlini touted the new tests at Lake St. Clair Metropark. )

A new era in protecting Michigan’s swimmers from contaminated waters got underway this week as advanced testing technology gets a trial run at Lake St. Clair Metropark.

State and county officials were on hand Monday for the official opening of the Huron to Erie Alliance for Research and Training Freshwater Center, also known as the HEART lab, at the lakeside park in Harrison Township. The lab will use new DNA testing that drastically speeds up test results for the cleanliness of the waters where people swim during the summer.

Current testing for E. coli at beaches around the state consists of monitors collecting water samples and transporting them to a lab. Processing can take a day or more, which means by the time health officials become aware of a contamination issue, it is too late to warn swimmers.

With the help of $100,000 in state funding approved last year, the HEART lab hopes to turn around testing samples in as little as two hours. The project is a collaboration between Huron-Clinton Metroparks, Wayne State University, Macomb Community College and the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

“This is going to give our residents the confidence to know they can go swimming in the lakes knowing it’s clean today — not finding out the next day that it wasn’t safe,” said state Rep. Anthony Forlini, R-Harrison Township.

Results for the HEART lab project will help state health officials plan how best to implement water testing in the future.

Several additional areas may see advanced testing as early as next year, after the latest state budget earmarked new funds to support the expanded use of the technology.

“It’s such a great idea, we’re going to continue expanding it across Michigan,” said Shannon Briggs, a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality toxicologist.

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