While many may be drawn to the beach for a day of fun in the sun and water, there are some risks associated swimming in a contaminated body of water. Water is frequently tested at beaches across the province to ensure they are safe for people to enjoy throughout the summer. Bodies of water are tested for bacteria and toxins, including E. coli and microcystin toxin, which can be harmful to humans and animals.

Dr. Julie Kryzanowski, deputy chief medical health officer with the Ministry of Health, explained that blue-green algae is naturally occurring in freshwater bodies.

“There can be blooms throughout the summer months where it grows very rapidly, and the blooms can be affected by agricultural runoff when certain chemicals are present.”

Blue-green algae can produce microcystin toxin, which can cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation. It is toxic when ingested and can cause damage to the liver. This toxin cannot be smelled, tasted, or seen in the algae blooms.

“We do recommend that people take precautions and not ingest any water or use it for drinking, cooking, or bathing when those blooms are present.”

E. coli can also be found in bodies of water which can cause gastrointestinal upset, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Kryzanowski emphasized the importance of checking water quality advisories and avoiding swimming, bathing, or wading in contaminated waters, for people and their pets. She added that people should always rinse off after being in a body of water, regardless of the water quality.

“Rinse off with fresh water so that it can rinse away any bacteria, viruses, or other toxins that might be present in the water. Because those things can make people sick, and some diseases can be spread person-to-person through the water or from persons and animals through the water as well.”

Young children and older adults are more susceptible to adverse effects, but she urged everyone to avoid ingesting contaminated water.

“Your immune system is not as strong, and then of course children in the water may be more likely to ingest or take the water into their mouth, so that's not recommended.”

When enjoying a day at the beach, parents are reminded to keep an eye on their children not only to prevent the child from drinking the water but also to reduce the risk of drowning.

“One of the things that we do recommend people do is to check the water quality monitoring updates that are posted online and to watch for those advisories that may indicate the presence of blue-green algae blooms or microcystin toxin. And then to follow, of course, any of the advisories.”