Officials are planning to install portable toilets along Old Orchard Beach after locals complained that visitors were relieving themselves in the dunes and ocean.
The issue of public restroom facilities along the popular beach came under scrutiny last week after local residents told local news media about people pooping outside, often along the beach.
Alison Sirois, who works for Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s bureau of land resources, said Friday that the state is working with town officials to address the problem.
“[The town is] working with us to place portable toilets at places along the beach,” Sirois said.
She directed further questions to town officials, who didn’t respond to several messages seeking comment.
There are public bathrooms centrally located on West Grand Avenue, but the long, flat beach stretches more than three miles in either direction.
“They’re using the ocean. They’re using the dunes,” local resident and business owner Sherri Tripp told television station WMTW. “Just a few weeks ago in broad daylight we saw a gentleman come up behind this bush and do the No. 2, unfortunately. … I sit on my deck and we see at least 10 to 15 people a day, minimum, that’s when I’m outside.”
Earlier this week, Town Manager Larry Mead urged people to contact local police if they saw anyone relieving themselves outside.
Keri Kaczor, coordinator for Maine Healthy Beaches, said that people peeing or pooping on beaches is “pretty gross,” but her group is more concerned with water draining from land into the sea.
Most of Maine Healthy Beaches’ monitoring efforts, which occur at dozens of sites along the coast between Kittery and Mount Desert Island, are at places where rivers, streams and storm drains empty into the ocean.
Harmful bacteria levels are found most often at these kinds of locations, though the source of the bacteria is usually unknown, she said. The biggest cause of beach closings and advisories is stormwater runoff, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which used to publish an annual report on pollution at beaches nationwide.
At Old Orchard Beach on July 25, there was an enterococci bacteria count of 185 per 100 ml of water, which is over the maximum acceptable level of 103, but the following day it was back down near zero, she said. Enterococci is commonly found in feces and can make people sick.
The reading of 185 on July 25 was the first time in the past year that a sample taken at Old Orchard Beach had exceeded a count of 103.
“Whatever it was, it was very temporary,” Kazcor said of the bacteria level.
Still, she added, human feces is “so much more pathogenic” than that of a beaver or a bird, for example, and conditions can result in bacteria blooming more than once from a single deposit.
“They can re-grow and persist,” she said.
Large, wide beaches with heavy exposure to coastal ocean currents, such as Old Orchard Beach, usually rid themselves fairly quickly of harmful bacteria because of sun exposure, which can kill the bacteria, or of the tide, which often washes it away, Kazcor said. Bacteria has been known to linger longer at beaches that are more sheltered from the open ocean.
It’s also a relatively easy problem to address if there is property where public bathrooms can be built. At Higgins Beach in Scarborough, for example, the public bathrooms were built about two blocks away from the water because nothing closer was available.
But money for building bathrooms, or even for water quality sampling efforts, often is not easy to come by.
“Everyone is squeezed for budgets,” Kazcor said.