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Testing the waters at Bermuda’s beaches

Independent tests carried out on water samples from Grape Bay and Hungry Bay at the weekend showed that both beaches were safe for recreational use.

The Royal Gazette commissioned Shervon De Leon, of Bermuda Environmental Laboratories, to collect the samples on Friday and Saturday and test them for enterococci, a group of bacteria used as an indicator of pollution or faecal contaminants. The results for both sites showed amounts of enterococcus far below the maximum accepted levels recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, which is the measure by which the Bermuda Government determines the safety of bathing water. This newspaper also commissioned testing at Hungry Bay in June, after we revealed that there were problems with the state-of-the-art sewage treatment plant at the new acute care wing at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. Those tests, carried out by Mr De Leon over the course of seven days beginning on June 1, also showed levels of enterococcus well below the EPA's recommended maximum levels.

Sewage from KEMH is treated at the hospital's sewage treatment plant on site before it goes into the main Corporation of Hamilton sewage line.

Sewage from the main line is dumped offshore, via the Seabright outfall, just west of Hungry Bay. Government promised in April 2014 to tell the public if sewage pollution levels off Bermuda's beaches hit danger levels, after the United States Consulate warned US residents and tourists that the island's waters could be unsafe at times, depending on wind and weather conditions.

The first test results to be made public in 2014 included Hungry Bay, after fears were raised that sewage was ending up there from the Seabright outfall in certain weather conditions. But though Government regularly tests the water during the summer at 14 separate bathing sites and publishes the results online, it no longer takes samples at Hungry Bay, because it is not considered to be a “bathing beach”.

A Government spokeswoman said yesterday that Hungry Bay would be reconsidered for weekly sampling if it “is more frequently used for recreation by the public”. Asked why testing was stopped at Hungry Bay, when the highest levels of sewage were detected there in 2014, she replied: “Historical evidence tells us that it is Grape Bay that is most susceptible to grease ball pollution events, not Hungry Bay. The Department of Health is focusing the recreational water monitoring programme on popular bathing beaches, in accordance with advice from the Caribbean Public Health Agency, and [has] increased the number of sampling sites on those beaches.”

The spokeswoman confirmed there were still “issues” with the hospital sewage plant but ruled them out as the “source of the grease balls at Grape Bay”. She said KEMH's wastewater treatment plant was “currently operating well”. “The Department [of Environment and Natural Resources] can confirm that there has not been a risk to the public and the quality of the treated effluent is being closely monitored,” she said. The spokeswoman added that the Department and the Environmental Authority were working with BHB, the acute care wing building contractors and the sewage plant equipment manufacturer to ensure the quality of the water “by setting a manageable timeline to rectify the issues”. A hospital spokeswoman said on Friday that “good progress” had been made on the sewage treatment plant operations and an inspection by the Department of Environment last week confirmed the plant was “not generating any greases and ... the effluent water quality was good”. The EPA's maximum acceptable level of enterococcus per 100 millilitres of water is 130 cfu for a single sample and 35 cfu as a 30-day average. It suggests beaches should be retested the next day when levels hit 70 cfu.

At Hungry Bay on Friday, the count was 12 cfu per 100ml of water; the next day it was 7 cfu. At Grape Bay, the count was 6 cfu per 100ml on Friday and 9 cfu per 100ml on Saturday.

To view the certificates of analysis, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”

Sample it: Shervon De Leon taking a water sample at Hungry Bay (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published August 31, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated August 31, 2016 at 5:56 am)

Testing the waters at Bermuda’s beaches

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