Six Metro Vancouver beaches are now closed to swimming due to high levels of E. coli bacteria, and it’s unclear when they’ll be reopened.
Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) announced the closure of beaches at Whytecliff, Ambleside and Sandy Cove Park on Tuesday.
E. coli is the same bacteria that can be found on vegetables or in beef. It is of particular concern for vulnerable populations, such as kids and seniors.
Vancouver Coastal Health deems a beach unsafe for swimming if there are more than 200 E. coli per 100 millilitres of water.
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On Saturday, Vancouver Coastal Health said it had taken at least one reading in the Sunset/Kits-area that found an E. coli level of 15,000.
A major contributor to E. coli in the water comes from fecal matter, both human and animal.
“Generally, when we see higher levels of E. coli bacteria in the water at this time of year, a couple of things are going on,” said VCH spokesperson Laurie Dawkins.
“Human activity from more people in the water swimming and boating, that kind of thing, as well as we have a lot of wildlife in the area, geese and duck producers of feces, so all these things are in the water.”
VCH says it hasn’t had any reports of problems with the city’s sewer systems which might have contributed to the growth of the bacteria.
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Swimming in contaminated water can come with serious health consequences, leading to gastrointestinal illness and symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramping or nausea.
Dawkins said despite knowing the contributing factors, it is difficult to pin down exactly what causes such a bacterial bloom.
She said high temperatures have also contributed, and that the end of the heat wave could help. But she acknowledged that officials don’t know when the beaches might reopen.
“That could have a positive impact,” she said. “The best I can say is we are testing daily and reporting out, and as soon as conditions change, we’ll let folks know.”
In the meantime, signage has been posted at all six of the affected beaches indicating that people should not go in the water.
Anyone who is exposed to the water should shower immediately using soap and water, paying special attention to any cuts and scrapes.
Wet clothing, bathing suits or towels should also be washed right away.