This is a statement in full issued by the Environment Minister:
Today I am here to reassure the people of Bermuda as well as visitors to our shores that our beaches are safe for swimming and recreational use.
Government carries out extensive water sampling twice weekly and we will be taking steps to make the results of these tests available to the public. In addition, we will provide a public alert system if, due to weather conditions or other factors, there are water quality issues.
A Burden of Illness Study was conducted in 2011/12 with the aim of better understanding the cause of food and water borne infections which case diarrhea, otherwise known as gastroenteritis or ‘G.E’.
The study ultimately found that people were not at risk of G.E. from swimming. Furthermore, we haven’t had a case of typhoid on the island (a disease mentioned in the US Consul’s warning to citizens this week) for over 20 years.
To date, there has not been any water sampling information which has caused us to close the bathing beaches (something which we would do if results showed that contamination levels were over acceptable limits for more than one day). This includes those initial test results taken by Laval University (through BIOS) in the spring of 2013.
That particular type of pollution event is short in duration, self resolving, limited in scope and driven by very specific weather circumstances (strong SSE winds and waves) and has not recurred since then in the wake of extensive sampling.
The thing I would like people to realize here is that the results of the water sampling are not known instantaneously. Between the sample being taken and the results being known there is a 24 hour period….which allows the bacteria to grow in a Petri dish.
If the results come back with elevated levels of contaminants Department of Health personnel go back to that sampling area as soon as the results are known and test again – by which point typically levels have returned to normal and there is now no need to alert the public or close the beach. That is how quick these episodes can arise and resolve themselves.
However, the Department of Health continues to investigate a mechanism that would make future water test results available to the public as close to real-time as possible.
As I mentioned, we are currently developing an alert system should a situation ever occur where Department of Health staff test a site, find unacceptable levels of contaminants, go back the next day and find unacceptable levels of contaminates for a second day.
This ‘alert system’ may take the form of a flashing notice on the Department of Health/Government website along with media notifications from the Government’s Department of Communication and Information to all local media outlets.
It may, alternatively, take the form of a physical flag or sign on that beach or bathing area.
We also will alert the public if ‘greaseballs’ appear on the beach. Greaseballs manifest as small (marble sized) balls of grey grease mixed with sand deposited at the high tide mark on Paget beaches.
However I must stress that the presence of greaseballs does not necessarily mean the water is contaminated.
The Department of Health will have greaseballs safely removed from the shoreline as soon as they are reported. If members of the public spot greaseballs we ask that they contact Environmental Health at: 278-5333. The Government cannot work in isolation. We also need the public’s assistance.
Furthermore, the Government will be stepping up a PR campaign to alert people on how to properly dispose of kitchen grease as it is the grease that causes the pipeline outfall to stick together and wash inshore.
Environmental Health and the Corporation of Hamilton have met with restaurants and been engaged in a survey of grease traps at source. They have implemented an initiative which has both mechanical upgrades of grease traps and behaviour change components for the kitchens.
Long term options for extending the outfall and for improved sewage treatment are being discussed and include possibly extending the pipeline, which belongs to the Corporation of Hamilton and has been in existence for almost 100 years.
Items currently underway include the following:
1. Improvement of sewage waste handling at Tynes Bay Septage Facility – investment in new plant is being made;
2. Improvement in grease collection from City restaurants;
3. Sewage treatment at KEMH will come online in 2014;
4. Twice weekly monitoring of bathing water quality is underway by the Department of Health.
The Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring the progress of the KEMH waste water treatment plant. This plant will effectively dilute the 500,000 imperial gallons per day from Hamilton with 100,000 IGPD of highly treated waste water.
The BLDC outfall about 1 km off Clearwater is currently discharging effluent treated to a primary level but is in the process of being upgraded to a Zenon tertiary plant. This is due to be completed later this year.
Dockyard has a fully functional plant that treats very effectively and delivers treated effluent to a bore hole. It will soon be incorporating BOAZ island sewage.
In closing, I would like to assure Bermudians and our visitors that the Government of Bermuda takes the issue of seawater quality very seriously.
Environmental Health will continue to closely monitor Bermuda’s beaches and take water samples for bathing water quality twice each week at major bathing beaches. Any issues that may be raised by that sampling will be reported to the public.
It’s two step forwards one back… we really know how to shoot ourselves in the foot.
Recently a study was published saying untreated sewage was contaminating south short beaches. Now, doing its job, the US Consulate General in Bermuda has picked up on the issue and issued the warning below.
What gets me is the last line, it’s a killer.
It looks like the warning may also have been emailed out – I know at least one US citizen who received it and sent it to me.
United States Consulate General Hamilton, Bermuda
Security Message for U.S. Citizens: Contaminated Beaches
March 31, 2014
The U.S. Consulate General in Hamilton, Bermuda, informs U.S. citizens of a public concern regarding the contamination of beaches. A scientific study conducted in 2013 by the University of Laval, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, the Bermuda Departments of Conservation, Health, and Environment, and the Bermuda Central Government Laboratory reports that ongoing dumping of raw sewage off Bermuda’s south coast causes intermittent contamination of the waters along the island’s south shore beaches, creating a public health hazard. Changing weather conditions – wind, swells, tides, and rain – can bring rapid degradation of water quality along the beaches, resulting in human bacteria levels from fecal contamination up to four times the acceptable U.S. standard. In 2013, as many as five of the beaches were described as “unfit for recreational use” on different occasions based on water samples.
According to the study, possible negative health effects for swimmers include gastroenteritis, ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and staph infections. In addition, as a general medical matter, persons exposed to sewage-contaminated water face increased risk of Hepatitis A, eye infections, and typhoid. Those who intend to enter the waters along the south shore may wish to consider Hepatitis A and typhoid immunizations prior to doing so. The Government of Bermuda has announced that it plans to take measures to reduce or treat the outfall, but as of March 2014, the dumping continues unabated.