New Brunswick

Flood-contaminated beaches in Saint John should recover by summer, says expert

The St. John River should recover from flood contaminants in time for beach season, according to the head of the Atlantic Coastal Action Program in Saint John.

Water quality tests will confirm if beaches will open on schedule, says head of ACAP Saint John

Dominion Park beach in west Saint John is a popular spot during the summer months. (Julia Wright / CBC)

The St. John River should recover from flood contaminants in time for beach season, according to the head of the Atlantic Coastal Action Program in Saint John.

"We do know that ecosystems recover quite quickly," said executive director Graeme Stewart-Robertson, who has studied the natural power of Saint John's Marsh Creek to rid itself of untreated sewage.

"And the St. John River system, by all accounts ... is a healthy ecosystem overall."

Beaches in the region normally open in late June, when student lifeguards are out of school and free to work.

When asked if it would happen on schedule, Stewart-Robertson said he'd like to see more testing results from the province.

ACAP's seasonal laboratory, supported by the New Brunswick Community College in Saint John, is not yet up and running.

On May 9, Saint John EMO director and fire Chief Kevin Clifford flagged the kinds of pollutants that might have entered the water, including farm pesticides, propane, and raw sewage from septic fields and sewerage systems.

During the flooding, emergency crews were conducting safety and wellness checks in the Dominion Park area. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Stewart-Robertson says fecal coliform bacteria can dry up and die within days, although some pathogens can live in soils and sand for longer.

"Hydrocarbons, from people's fuel oil tanks in their homes, cars that were parked in there, those are small add-ins," he said.

"But we are fortunate that the river is so large and the volume of water during the flood was so great, that they're likely to be quite diluted."

Still, the non-profit environmental organization is taking precautions.

It has temporarily suspended a volunteer parks and beach cleanup that was scheduled for next week in flood-affected areas in the city's north end and on the west side.

Graeme Stewart-Robertson, executive director of ACAP Saint John, said the contaminants are likely diluted by the volume of water during the flooding. (CBC)

Meanwhile, Stewart-Robertson says best practices call for action when it comes to ensuring the safety of playground equipment.

He said hard surfaces on play structures should be washed with disinfectant or power-washed with soap.

As of Thursday, four public parks in the city remain closed:  Robertson Square, Tucker Park, Lower Shamrock Park and Dominion Park.

Spokeperson Lisa Caissie said Saint John was waiting for more direction from the province on how to determine when the parks are safe again.

The floodwaters at Robertson Square Park in Saint John's north end have receded, but the playground remains closed due to possible contamination. (CBC)

Rothesay's director of parks and recreation, Charles Jensen, said he's also looking for guidance.

We will be providing additional information in the very near future.- Paul Bradley, Department of Health

"The province typically does testing on water, so we're hoping they'll step up their game and do some testing here a little more frequently," said Jensen.

The town of Quispamsis said it expects to open its beaches, with lifeguards, as scheduled, late next month.

No additional testing needed, province says 

In response to inquiries from the CBC, New Brunswick's Department of Health spokesman Paul Bradley emailed this reply: "As we have been doing since flooding began, the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health (OCMOH) will continue to  monitor public health impacts.

"The goal of OCMOH is to ensure public health is protected, and to ensure that the public have the information they require to make informed decisions about their activities on these waterways," he wrote.

"We have been working with various other departments to determine what actions are appropriate to ensure public safety and we will be providing additional information in the very near future."

But a press release issued Friday said the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health is not recommending extra water testing or other types of assessments in response to the extensive flooding the province has experienced. 

"We have been working with the Department of Environment and Local Government and we are confident that the quality of river water will return to normal," said Dr. Jennifer Russell, chief medical officer of health. "Due to extensive flushing, the risk associated with flood water contamination in the St. John River system has since dissipated."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.

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