Dogs are ‘mobile sewage systems’ at beaches

Kicking sand over your dog’s waste at the beach can cause water contamination and lead to serious health implications.

“Most dog owners are pretty responsible,” said Peter Webster, a senior scientist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Certainly from an Irish perspective, most beaches I’ve been to, people pick up after their dogs.

“But there are health implications if you don’t. Clean up after your dog, they are mobile sewage systems. They have the potential to contaminate the water.”

Local authorities warding swimmers off bathing at popular beaches because of E.coli makes regular news headlines in the summer, but the reason behind it is rarely spelt out.

“When a dog owner kicks sand over it [faeces] the assumption might be that the sea will wash it away and it does but it releases the bacteria that are in the faeces,” said Mr Webster.

According to the EPA a single piece of dog faeces can contaminate approximately 3m litres of water.

“It may not seem like an important environmental concern, but dog poo can create much more damage than a mess on the bottom of your shoe,” states newly published EPA guidelines.

“There are actually enough E.coli bacteria in one dog poo to contaminate an Olympic size swimming pool (around 3m litres of water) to a level which would fail to meet the excellent water quality standard.”

The guidelines also state the types of illnesses the bacteria can cause.

“A single gram of dog poo can contain up to 23m faecal coliform bacteria,” reads the EPA report. “Dog waste can also spread parasites such as hookworms, whipworms, roundworms, ringworms, tapeworms, parvovirus, and salmonella.”

Local authorities ramp up their sampling of water for contamination during the bathing season, which runs from the start of June until September 15.

Many authorities will sample fortnightly, if not weekly.

Water samples from our beaches are currently tested for the two common faecal bacteria — E.coli and intestinal enterococci.

According to the EPA’s guidlelines, “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”.

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