So who is responsible for testing the water quality at our beaches, when do they test and what do they test for?
Sampling and analysis of the water quality at our beaches is managed by our local authorities. Many of them use the Health Services Executive to coordinate sampling and analysis while others may use commercial contract laboratories. Many of the testing facilities are accredited to the ISO 17025 standard for laboratories by the Irish National Accreditation Board (INAB). Samples are generally taken just below the surface in waters which are at least 1 metre deep but this can be influenced by tidal conditions. Sampler safety is a key concern especially if this means entering the surf zone where breaking waves present a risk.
Bathing waters at our beaches are sampled each year from the end of May until mid-September with the official bathing season running from 1st June to 15th September. Beaches monitored and managed under the Bathing Water Quality Regulation are required to be sampled, as a minimum, on a monthly basis during the bathing season. However many local authorities sample at fortnightly intervals and some even weekly. Sampling at other monitored beaches is generally on a monthly basis during the summer months.
Water samples from our beaches are currently tested for two common faecal bacteria … E.coli and Intestinal Enterococci. These organisms live in the gut of all warm blooded animals including humans, livestock, dogs, birds and are present in very large numbers in faeces. While they can cause illness on their own they are used as indicators of the possible presence of other more harmful organisms such as Campylobacter, Salmonella, Viruses, or parasites such as Cryptosporidium. In freshwaters there is a better correlation with bather health for E.coli while in coastal waters Intestinal Enterococci are more closely linked to health risks.
As soon as analysis results are reported by the local authorities via an IT system on EDEN to the EPA the results are made available on beaches.ie – usually within 48 hours of final analysis. So you can find out the latest water quality at beaches.ie, on beach notice boards or local authority websites – usually under ‘Environment’.