Is the water safe?

Well of course we’re going to throw poo at ‘im! If you have any poo, fling it now.  (Madagascar)

Do we swim in that?

There certainly seems to be  a s***storm about sewage going on in Bermuda this week. If you haven’t read the local papers, in summary, the US Consulate here on island issued a warning to tourists that swimming off the south shore beaches of Bermuda could be a health hazard. I first saw it on April 1st and so perhaps unsurprisingly thought it was an April Fool.  Then today I received an email that originated with the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

No prizes for guessing what they were going to say – an emphatic

 our waters continue to be safe and beautiful for swimming

It is hard to find the truth, but have you seen the water? It is crystal clear, shades of turquoise and very hard to resist.  Yes I know that bacteria can’t be seen swimming along by the naked eye, but I would rather swim here than off Brighton beach any day. (sorry Brighton, I could have said Tenby or Swansea but the Welsh might get upset)

Sometimes reading other blogs is amusing, not that I am encouraging you to read them instead of mine, and one from the Washington Post reports one person who felt he had ear infections from Bermudian sewage (more likely to be fungal and common in swimmers, sewage or not) and anther who attributes cancer to regular swimming in radioactive sludge which apparently also comes out of this pipe.Really?

Actually most of Bermudian poop goes into cesspits under our homes, they have to be suitably lined and professionally cleaned from time to time, so I am told. I expect property owners will know far more than I do on this – how often and how much?  So the waste that everyone is so energised about is a single pipe that ends about ¾ mile off Hungry Bay.  This carries sewage from the city of Hamilton (for my UK friends, this city is nothing like a UK city, more like a very small town or even a large village) and it has the pretty name of Seabright Outfall. 

Tourism activists (good term that, I think it means people who moan about things with good intentions) are saying that this is Bermuda-time-bomb, hepatitis, enteritis and typhoid lurk in the bay for the unwary swimmer.  The Bermuda Tourism Authority – this replaced the short-lived Bermuda Tourism Board – points out that not only is the pipe 100 fathoms deep  but also that the prevalent currents will almost always pull the effluent eastwards out into the Atlantic ocean.  Almost always is a bit worrying – when does it not?

So I went back to the scientific research that the US Consulate claims underlay its statement, which turns out to be just the results for 2013 water testing off Bermuda beaches.

 

Some maths coming up

Some maths coming up (from Bermuda Government DOH)

To help:

  • Enteroccoci are bugs
  • cfu = colony forming unit
  • safe limits are 35cfu /100mls
  • EPA = Environmental Protection Agency
  • mean = average (shame they don’t give the range)

So, at Hungry Bay 25 samples were taken between April and November 2013.  About 4% of these were over the upper safety limit for the bug count . And here’s the maths: 4% of 25 is 1 isn’t it? I checked this with my husband (he has a maths degree so might be up to this ) and I have run it through my brain several times – what I think it means is that one sample was over the limit in 2013.  I am not sure that will convince many people to change their behaviour.

More maths – some claim the waste appears in golf-ball sized globules while others say they are marble-sized.  The volume of a golf ball is about 40cc (wikipedia, you don’t think I know that sort of stuff do you?) but that of a marble is around 2cc, so a 20 fold difference. I admit neither would be particularly pleasant.

It seems it all depends on what you read:  BM-Online paints a gloomy picture that hasn’t improved over the years; Trip Advisor had a forum discussion on exactly this issue back in 2006; Tony Brannon, a tourist activist who once was a member of the Bermuda Tourism Board (thats an interesting read dubbed Brannongate by a 2011 blogger) has been quoted as saying Bermuda government should approach the issue with a degree of urgency. All three online Bermuda papers have something to say about it. The two Bermudians I asked about it today both smiled and shrugged, and that is probably the approach I am going to take. Well, come on, have you seen the water?

The Atlantic Sea – and a boat

Shore

At least you can sea where to put your feet

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