For many, warm summer days in Toronto mean a trip to the beach is in order.
A quick check on the water quality at one of the city’s 11 public beaches will tell you whether it’s a good idea, or better to take a rain check.
But what if you stumble upon a hidden gem — a little beachfront area with few people and a lot of parking. Should you go?
Gabi Parent Doliner with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a charity organization that monitors water quality, says that even though the water and beaches are popular for recreational activities like scuba diving, paddle boarding and kayaking, people actually wanting to swim should think twice before doing so, as a slew of health hazards await.
She says only five per cent of Toronto’s waterfronts are tested and monitored on a regular basis, which means that 95 per cent of Toronto’s waterfronts could be a major health hazard.
“The inner harbour is susceptible to sewage,” she says. “Last year the beaches like Humber Bay Park West failed about 50 per cent of the time. When beaches are chosen to be tested, things like a lifeguard are considered, but often they’re just not tested to discourage the public from going in.”
A lack of testing means an increase in major health risks.
“You can get skin rashes, infections and there are more scary things that can happen like contract a virus,” says Parent Doliner, adding that the most vulnerable are children, the elderly, pregnant women and anyone who has a compromised immune system.
According to Toronto Public Health (TPH) spokesperson Mahesh Patel, the City of Toronto takes daily water samples from June to Labour Day at the the supervised beaches across the city and tests for E. coli bacteria to ensure safe levels for swimming.
Humber Bay Park is not monitored or tested for beach water quality as it is not designated as a public beach due to unsafe characteristics of the beach and because it is not a guarded beach.
Testing of the inner waters of the Toronto Islands are also not within the scope of TPH’s mandate of beach water quality testing.
TPH advises that the public not swim during and after storms, floods, or heavy rainfall as E. coli levels increase substantially in the lake and may exceed the provincial standard of 100 E. coli per 100 millilitres of water.
The following are the beaches designated safe for swimming and regularly tested for E. coli:
- Marie Curtis Park East Beach
- Sunnyside Beach
- Hanlan’s Point Beach
- Gibraltar Point Beach
- Centre Island Beach
- Ward’s Island Beach
- Cherry Beach
- Woodbine Beaches
- Kew Balmy Beach
- Bluffer’s Beach Park
- Rouge Beach