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Monitoring the Water at Halton's Beaches

How are beaches selected for monitoring?

  • Beaches are selected for monitoring based on their use for swimming and other water activities.

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Why are beaches monitored?

  • Halton Region’s Health Department monitors area beaches to protect swimmers from illnesses or harm that may be linked to unsafe water quality.
  • Swimming in water with unacceptable bacteria levels can result in an increased risk of infection of the ears, eyes, nose and throat. Gastrointestinal, or stomach illnesses, may also occur if water is swallowed.
  • Swimming in water with excess algae or other debris can be a hazard.

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How are beaches sampled?

  • Health Department staff collect a minimum of 5 water samples from each beach once a week to assess water quality.
  • These samples are analyzed by The Provincial Public Health Laboratory for E.coli bacteria. E. coli is found in the intestines and feces of all warm-blooded animals. It is used as an indicator of fecal pollution. The results of the water samples indicate the quality of the beach water at the time the beach was sampled .
  • Algae is monitored by viewing and observing the water.

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A warning sign is posted by the Local Municipality advising the users that the water may be unsafe for swimming When is a beach considered to be unsafe for swimming?

A beach is considered unsafe in situations that may include but are not limited to:

  • Average level of E. coli greater than the Ministry guideline of 200 E. coli/100mL of water, or a single sample of E. coli higher than the Ministry guideline of 400 E. coli/100mL of water;
  • Chemical, oil, sewage or other waste spill;
  • Waste water treatment plant bypass (unintentional or controlled);
  • Blue-green algae bloom (confirmed by visual observation or laboratory test);
  • Heavy algae growth or accumulation other than blue-green algae;
  • Fish or other wildlife die-off at the beach; or
  • Visible debris, metal, or sharp objects in the water or beach area

To alert bathers to the potential of a higher than normal risk of infection, a warning sign is posted by the Local Municipality advising the users that the water may be unsafe for swimming. Postings are removed once sample results indicate the levels of bacteria are within acceptable limits.

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What are some factors that influence beach water quality?

  • Seasonal and storm surface run-off into rivers and lakes
  • Pet waste run-off
  • Large populations of waterfowl (geese, seagulls, etc.)
  • Warm water temperatures
  • Malfunctioning private sewage disposal systems
  • Boating wastes
  • Agricultural manure run-off

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How can I help keep Halton Beaches clean?

You can help keep Halton’s beaches clean by following these few simple tips:

  • Not feeding animals or birds
  • Observing local "stoop and scoop" by-laws and always pick up your pets waste
  • Practicing pollution-free boating and disposing of human waste appropriately
  • Keeping your private sewage disposal system in good working order.

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How can I find out if a beach is safe for swimming?

For weekly updated sampling results, you can:

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Blue-green algae

What are blue-green algae?

Photo of blue-green algae
  • Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) are naturally occurring organisms.
  • In high amounts, blue-green algae present themselves as a visible, green, paint-like discolouration on the water surface.
  • In the late summer and early fall, with warmer temperatures and with the right amount of nutrients (phosphorous and nitrogen), they can form a visible surface bloom.
  • Blue-green algae blooms may contain toxins that can be harmful to human and animal health.
  • Even without a visible surface bloom, blue-green algae and their toxins may still be present in the water.

What are the health effects of coming into contact with blue-green algae?

While swimming or wading, direct skin contact with blue-green algae and their toxins may cause skin irritation and itching. If accidental swallowing occurs, it may also cause other symptoms such as:
  • headaches
  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea, and/or vomiting

What should you do if you see blue-green algae in the water?

  • Assume it is toxic blue-green algae.
  • Do not drink, swim or wade in the water.
  • Do not allow your pets to use the water.
  • Do not eat fish caught in the water.
  • Call the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change’s Spills Action Centre at 416-325-3000 or 1-800-268-6060.

Where can I get more information about blue-green algae?

For more information about blue-green algae, visit the Province of Ontario’s Blue-green algae web page.

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