Assessment of beach water quality during the summer

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During the summer the quality of each individual water sample tested at our beaches is assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) using the standards set in the Bathing Water Quality Regulations. Individual beach water samples are assessed as meeting the quality standards of ‘Excellent’, ‘Good’ or ‘Sufficient’ or if they don’t meet the minimum standard as ‘Poor’.  The quality assessment of individual beach water samples is reported on beaches.ie during the bathing season.

The EPA in conjunction with the Heath Services Executive apply strict guidelines to the assessment of individual beach water samples and the actions required if those standards are exceeded during the bathing season.  This may occasionally require that a swim restriction such as an Advice Not to Swim or Do Not Swim is applied at a beach to protect the health of swimmers and beach users.

A minimum frequency of monthly sampling at our beaches is undertaken during the summer, however, many local authorities sample more frequently at fortnightly intervals and some even weekly. Due to the time required for microbiological assays there will always be a time delay between today’s sample being taken and the results being available. In general it is typically 48 hours or so before water quality results are available for reporting.

The likelihood of possible health risk has been determined by the World Health Organisation from a number of studies of bather health and water quality over the last 20 years.  The risk is considered to range from around 1in 30 for Excellent quality waters to about 1 in 10 for Poor quality waters. The most likely symptoms of swimming in contaminated waters are gastro-intestinal illness (upset tummy) or skin irritation (sometimes called swimmers itch).

EPA Bathing Water Team

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