Why it takes 2 days for us to learn if our beaches have E.coli

CBC Windsor followed WECHU as they tested E.coli levels at public beaches.

'If there's going to be a heavy rainfall within 48 hours, it's recommended that they don't go swimming'

Manjinder Bamotra and Mohammed Bangura are two of the health inspectors assigned to gather samples of eight beaches for weekly testing. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

There have been few beach closures from E.coli levels this year in Windsor-Essex — but the summer isn't over yet.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit has been testing E.coli levels at the local beaches since 1993. Only two beaches have been shut down so far.

The health unit posts warnings when the E.coli level is more than 200. A beach is closed when the level is more than 1000.

WECHU uses a national guideline of 200 E.coli measured per 100 millilitres of water — a threshold adopted in early 2018. The Ontario threshold was previously at 100 E.coli per 100 millilitres of water.

Bacteria levels at Windsor-Essex beaches are tested weekly. It takes 48 hours from testing to results, as samples are sent to London for processing. 0:35

Health inspectors test the bacteria levels of eight beaches weekly, but it takes 48 hours from when the water is bottled to produce any results. Five water samples from each beach are sent to a public health lab in London.

"Our samples are only as good as when the samples were taken," said Peter Millar, environmental health coordinator who runs the WECHU water program. "Water samples are required to be tested at a public health lab so we send it to London."

Seacliff Park Beach in Leamington is tested every week for E.coli (Amy Dodge/CBC)

The health unit updates its website each week and while Millar encourages everyone to read it before going swimming, he also gave three tips for people to learn to ensure a safer swim.

"If there's going to be a heavy rainfall within 48 hours, it's recommended that they don't go swimming. And it's also very important that when they're at the beach if they're in the water and it's very cloudy and they can't see their feet, it's really important that they don't swim at that time to wait until it gets more clear."

Before you go swimming, here are three things to consider. 0:11

What is 'beach sampling' and is it enough?

Manjinder Bamotra and Mohammed Bangura are two health inspectors who test the waters on a regular basis. CBC Windsor joined them for a routine sampling to better understand what type of testing is done to determine swim safety.

When the pair walk on to the beach, the first thing they do is count the number of geese to anticipate the amount of waste running into the water. 

"Because all the poop is going to flow into the water and that's going to make this area a problem area for E.coli," said Bamotra.

Then the health inspectors check the direction of the wind and its speed.

"If the wind is blowing from the shore to the lake, most partials might be taken to the lake and that adds to the water's contamination," said Bangura.

Two health inspectors visit 8 beaches every week. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

As they collect water samples every 200 metres or so, they are looking for anything else that could contaminate the water or jeopardize public safety. Bamotra said he looks for needles, large amounts of seaweed, any kind of trash, broken glass and he even counts dead fish that are floating near the shoreline.

Does the delay in test results concern you?

If Karen Mitchell isn't in her kayak, she is at the beach with her grandchildren — she checks the WECHU beach map online daily.

Karen Mitchell watches her grandsons in the lake at Seacliff Park (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"I check the beach reports and so far most of them have been green most of the time so that's not too bad," she said. "There's always E. coli and some of the beaches it will gather up after a storm... I usually will pick one close by that is the best."

Mitchell said she wishes the results were faster than 48 hours.

"If they did the test today and had the results tomorrow that would be great."

Aug. 6 test results indicate zero beach closures 

According to beach sampling data for Aug. 6, 2019, no beaches in Windsor-Essex are closed due to to bacterial levels. 

However, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) indicate Colchester Beach, Mettawas Beach, Point Pelee North West Beach, Sandpoint Beach and Seacliff Beach are unsafe for swimming. 

About the Author


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.