Surfers Unaware of Contamination at Scottish Beach

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Council rangers informally told local surfing instructors of the pollution problem five days later. Picture Credit: Jayne Wright

Article courtesy of Katherine Sutherland | August 6, 2015 | The Scotsman | Shared as educational material

SURFERS are furious they were not told sewage had spilled into the water at one of Scotland’s highest ranked beaches.

Hundreds swam and surfed at Belhaven Bay at Dunbar, East Lothian last week after the weather produced perfect wave conditions.

But a water test by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) on Monday 27th July, had already shown levels of bacteria such as E-Coli were up to 40 times higher than usual.

It was only at the weekend – five days later – that council rangers informally told local surfing instructors that there had been an overflow pipe problem at a local water treatment plant.

A spokeswoman for East Lothian Council later said that the pollution levels had not been high enough for them to be officially involved.

Scottish Water say they are investigating the problem and there have been no leaks since the end of last week but locals are still furious about being kept in the dark.

Sam Christopherson, an instructor at Coast to Coast surf school in Dunbar, said: “We only got told at the weekend, after it had been fixed, which is not particularly cool.

“We are going to contact people who went in the water because it was a really good surf week. A lot of local people were out too.

“In the middle of summer there can be a couple of hundred people at that beach. We didnt hear anything, so we just kept surfing as normal.

“I dont know whats happened in the chain but at some point weve not been informed and weve been swimming around in water thats been polluted.”

He is now calling for an official update system on water quality to be provided for East Lothian, similar to those in place at Portobello beach, Edinburgh as well as surfers beaches in Cornwall.

He added: “I’m hoping off the back of this something will be done where we get more real-time information.”

SEPA has been taking seawater samples weekly over the summer, checking for E coli and Intestinal Enterococci (IE).

The live bacteria, which come from human and animal faeces, are measured in Colony Forming Units (CFUs).

Average readings for Belhaven bay were between 10 and 20 cfu per 100mls, but soared to 430cfu for E Coli and 710cfu for IE in water tests done on Monday 27th July.

Earlier readings on July 15th had also been much higher than usual.

European Commission guidelines state that E coli levels of above 500 and IE above 200 are indicative of low water quality.

A spokesman for SEPA said: “SEPA is aware of a sewage discharge into Belhaven bay from the Dunbar sewerage network and are awaiting the outcome of Scottish Waters investigation before a full assessment of the environmental impacts can be made.

“Whilst a recent bathing water sample did show unusually high levels of bacteria, it is unclear what impact their sewage discharge has had over and above additional factors, such as agricultural runoff during recent heavy rainfall.

A spokesman for Scottish Water said: “Scottish Water responded to this matter with utmost urgency and action.

“As required, we informed and provided information to SEPA, our environmental regulator, and we understand samples taken since have identified no issues with the bathing water.

“We are confident there have been no further discharges since the end of the week and we have found no traces of sewage on the beach.

We are continuing to work hard to investigate the matter and ensure the waste water treatment works performs to its normal high standard.”

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