Why Aren’t Vancouver’s Beaches Safe?

Why Aren't Vancouver's Beaches Safe? | Dr. Ali Ghahary

Vancouver Coastal Health has ordered the closure of three more popular Metro Vancouver beaches due to high levels of E. coli, making the total number of BC beaches now off-limits to the general public at 5.

Back on June 20th and July 19th, no-swimming advisories were issued for both Trout Lake and Bowen Island’s Snug Cove. Now, adding to the list of closures as of Monday afternoon, are English Bay, Jericho Beach, and Sunset Beach – three of Metro Vancouver’s most popular beaches for locals and tourists.

Throughout the summer, the City of Vancouver monitors beaches (on a weekly basis from April until September) in order to determine their compliance with the Canadian Recreational Water Quality Guidelines. Per these guidelines, levels of E. coli bacteria must be below 200 per 100 ml in order for waters to be deemed safe to swim in. When the level exceeds 200, the British Columbia government may place notices across beaches that warn the general public about contaminated water; while they may also opt to issue no-swimming advisories. When a notice or no-swimming advisory is issued, this means that there is enough cause for concern that contact with these waters can be dangerous to the health of the general public.

High concentration of E. coli is often associated with animal or human fecal contamination found in recreational waters. It’s not always known what causes beach water to become contaminated, though rain (especially heavy rain) can sometimes be a contributing factor. Rain can overwhelm sewage systems which may force overflows, and it can also wash over land, picking up certain pollutants like pet waste, animal droppings, pesticides, fertilizers, and motor oil.

The most common illness that is reported by individuals who have swam in water contaminated with E. coli is gastrointestinal related problems, with symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, as well as headache and fever. If you (or someone you know) believe that you’ve been exposed to contaminated water, or if you have not heeded the no-swim advisories issued by Vancouver Coastal Health, it’s important to rinse your body off well using soap and warm, clean water. You should also wash things like clothing, swimsuits and towels that may have come into contact with contaminated water. If you notice any of the aforementioned gastrointestinal symptoms, you should also seek medical attention as well as notify your local health authority.

For more information on the latest beach advisories, visit VCH.ca