Risk assessments were carried out on fewer than half of all bathing water incidents reported by public health authorities last year.
The HSE’s public health bathing water group has revealed that only 15 out of 38 incidents where there were concerns about the quality of bathing water were formally assessed for the risk it posed to the public. A prohibition on bathing was imposed in 24 cases last year.
Local authorities, which monitor bathing water for E.coli and intestinal enterococci (infectious organisms), are obliged to notify the HSE and the Environmental Protection Agency about all incidents which could have an adverse impact on bathing water quality and the health of swimmers.
Under legislation, investigations should be carried out if bathing water is a “probable” source of infection, to confirm or rule out if there is a continuing risk. The public health group called for health officials to have increased awareness about their legal responsibilities under the Infectious Disease Regulations 1981.
It has also recommended that all public health professionals should be reminded of the link between recreational water exposure and public health.
The annual report showed 35 of the 38 incidents related to seawater, of which 29 were linked to potentially disease-causing microorganisms, while five were due to algal blooms. One case was due to thousands of mauve stinger jellyfish being washed ashore last October after the remnants of Hurricane Gert. A number of swimmers reported suffering mild stings.
One of the three incidents which were reported about freshwater led to the cancellation of a triathlon due to algal bloom while the other two cases were related to potential contamination by microorganisms.
The HSE said two of the biggest bathing water pollution events last year, which were in the mid-west region, were caused by the failure of a sewage pump. The report said heavy rain was the most reported source of contamination in 2017.
The bathing water group has also advised local authorities to erect signs where streams cross beaches to alert bathers that the water quality of such streams may not be the same as seawater.
“After prolonged periods of heavy rain the quality of both stream water and the sea may be adversely affected due to surface water run-off from a variety of sources including agricultural land, roads, animals, septic tanks, foul drainage seepages, and misconnections,” said Regina Kiernan, the group’s chairwoman.