Five public beaches close over E. coli

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Five public beaches close over E. coli
Exploding numbers of Canada geese may be contributing to bacteria problem
By Paul Morse
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jun 24, 2005)
Health officials have closed five of Hamilton's eight public beaches over fears they might be contaminated with bacteria.

The beaches in Pier 4, Bayfront and Confederation parks, along with Van Wagner's Beach and Binbrook Conservation Area Beach are now posted as unsafe for swimming.

Weekly bacteria testing shows high levels of E. coli, the bacteria associated with fecal matter, at Confederation and Van Wagner's beaches.

Public health posts beaches as unsafe when E.coli levels surpass 100 parts per million in 100 millilitres of water. E. coli bacteria indicate other harmful organisms are present.

Earlier this week, water samples at Confederation and Van Wagner's topped 1,000 in E. coli counts. Health officials think rough weather and high waves raised bacterial levels.

Another Lake Ontario beach at Beach Boulevard remains open, but its E. coli levels are very close to unacceptable.

Christie Conservation Area's beach became safe for swimming after its chlorination curtain was installed this week. In Hamilton Harbour, Bayfront and Pier 4 beaches have been open only two weeks this year, beginning May 24.

Scientists are trying to figure out why many beaches with no obvious sources of contamination such as sewer overflow outlets continue to show unacceptable bacterial counts.

"It's a lot more complicated than we thought," said Murray Charlton, a leading Environment Canada researcher at the National Water Research Institute in Burlington.

Health officials look for E. coli to tell them if there is contamination from human feces, indicating sewage spills or seepage.

"What we've found out is that the test doesn't tell any difference between bird poop and human poop," he said.

Current research suggests waterfowl populations around beaches are the source of contamination.

And in Hamilton, bird numbers are exploding. Three decades ago, the city had almost no Canada geese. Today, more than 80,000 breeding pairs have moved in, Charlton said.

Another piece of the picture is also emerging. Researchers now think the beaches themselves are acting as huge E. coli sponges where the bacteria can survive.

No one seems to know how long they can survive in the beach, Charlton said, "but it looks like it's a long time."

Charlton's team used a jackhammer to break through the frozen sand at Bayfront Park last winter. "About 60 centimetres down, we found E. coli alive."

That means they've been there since the summer, he said, and suggests the bacteria can live longer than anticipated in beaches, even though they're not actively reproducing.

"We don't have a definitive answer on this and we don't suggest public health people change anything at this time," Charlton said.

The city will build a bird-free zone at Pier 4 beach this summer to see if controlling the geese and gulls improves water quality. The beach and shallow water will be caged by poles supporting a net of wires to keep the waterfowl from flying in.

But when Canada geese moult and can't fly in July and August, they walk and swim to where they want to go, said Eric Matthews, public health's manager of safe water programs.

The shoreline will be changed to discourage waterfowl and a floating barrier will surround the beach to keep them from swimming in. Shrubs that geese refuse to walk through will be planted and temporary sliding gates will be installed on the stairs down to the beach. "I was down there in May and watched lots of geese use those stairs just like they were people," Matthews said.

pmorse@thespec.com 905-526-3434
 

scotto

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Water tests force beach closures
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jul 2, 2005)
Three Hamilton public beaches are closed over the holiday weekend after this week's water sample test found high bacterial levels.

Bayfront, Pier 4 and Van Wagner's Beach have been deemed not safe for swimming "due to high E. coli counts -- an indicator of fecal contamination from human and animal sources. Illness can occur if surface water contaminated with the bacteria is swallowed, enters the ears, eyes or nose, or comes in contact with open wounds."

The beaches were last tested on June 28.

However, the good news is that five public beaches remain open -- Binbrook, Christie and Valens conservation areas, Beach Boulevard and Confederation Park Beach.

For an update on beach conditions, call 905-546-2189.
 

scotto

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From today's Spec.

Unsafe for swimming
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jul 9, 2005)
Water is unsafe for swimming at three Hamilton beaches, the city's public health department announced yesterday after tests showed high levels of potentially harmful bacteria.

Signs warning swimmers of the poor water quality are posted at Bayfront Park Beach, Pier 4 Park Beach and Van Wagner's Beach.

Swimming is allowed at Binbrook Conservation Area in Glanbrook, Beach Boulevard, Christie Conservation Area in Flamborough, Confederation Park Beach and Valens Conservation Area in Flamborough.

For the most up-to-date information, call the safe water hotline at 905-546-2189.
 
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