2014-04-11 / Front Page

Dogs to show how beaches are tested

By Sean P. Milligan
Contributing Writer

SOUTH PORTLAND – The public is invited to see how bacteria-sniffing dogs are used to test water when environmental consulting firm FB Environmental presents a free demonstration at Willard Beach.

FB Environmental is collaborating with Environmental Canine Services and the city of South Portland to conduct the demonstration at 10 a.m. Tuesday, May 6.

Environmental Canine Services is a Vermontville, Mich.- based company that recently opened when owners Karen Reynolds and Scott Reynolds relocated to Dover, N.H. According to its website, the company has completed projects across the nation from Santa Barbara, Calif. to Saco.

The dogs are trained to detect human fecal matter that could be contaminating the water supply. Using their intuitive sense of smell, the dogs are able to differentiate between human discharge and other animals.

“They’re trained the same way a drug-sniffing or bomb-sniffing dog would be trained,” said Emily DiFranco, project manager and water quality specialist at FB Environmental.

The dogs’ senses are so keen that they must be given samples taken from local water treatment plants. Differences in diet, among other factors, cause the trigger smell to differentiate from one part of the country to the next.

Last summer Willard Beach posted advisories about unsafe levels of bacteria. In 2009, it was the only Cumberland County beach in the state’s top 10 dirtiest beaches, according to an Environment Maine report.

The event will allow people to see a true canine detection test in person. Dogs will test stormwater outfall pipes that dump onto the beach.

“We want to be sure that the bacteria that is in those samples that we find in the beach water, some of which is coming from the stormwater system, we want to be sure that it isn’t human source bacteria,” said Fred Dillon, stormwater program director at South Portland’s Water Resource Protection Department.

The city tests water samples from Willard Beach twice a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. If a sample comes back with more than the state’s maximum standard of 104 colonies per 100 milliliters of water, the source of the contamination is immediately sought out.

At this point in the testing process, the dogs from Environmental Canine Services can be brought in to detect the presence of human waste. Their response is definitive and trusted. According to a 2011 study by the city of Santa Barbara, Environmental Canine Services’ dogs have a 100 percent accuracy rate.

These environmental canines are not only useful for bacteria detection, but they serve as friendly ambassadors of water conservation, DiFranco said.

“I can talk to people about why you shouldn’t pollute your water bodies or why you need to worry about water pollution forever, DiFranco said. “But if you bring a couple of cute dogs people are more likely to want to listen.”

The event is free, but registration is recommended. To reserve a place contact Emily DiFranco by email at emilyd@fbenvironmental.com.

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