Public swimming areas trash, changing area requirements lifted

Pärnu beach.
Pärnu beach. Source: ERR/ Helen Wright

The requirement for changing booths and trash cans has been lifted from public bathing areas for this summer. At the same time, the Health Board has widened its scope for monitoring swimming water quality, in both salt- and freshwater areas.

A total of 53 such areas are ready for bathing season, which officially started yesterday, Monday, and runs to August 31, having met the water quality requirements as monitored by the Health Board (Terviseamet).

The board has monitored 85 sites, 37 of them on the seashore and 48 on inland water bodies, with nine new bathing sites being monitored for the first time ever.

Lembi Tiks, chief specialist at the Health Board's environmental health department, says the biggest change this bathing season is that changing rooms or booths, as well as toilets and rubbish bins, are no longer required on-site.

"The change was necessitated by the fact that the high demands of the old regime created problems for many bathing site owners in practical life and thus prevented the establishment of a bathing site," said Tiks, adding that the owner of sites not registered for bathing is not obliged to perform water pollution tests.

"The result was a situation where people were bathing in bathing areas whose water quality did not meet the requirements," he added.

Bathing water quality is monitored in a total of 20 sites in Harju County, the most populous region of Estonia.

The breakdown for the rest of the country is:

  • Ida-Viru and Tartu counties – 10,
  • Järva County – nine,
  • Pärnu County – six,
  • Hiiumaa – five,
  • Jõgeva and Valga counties – four,
  • Lääne, Lääne-Viru, Võru and Saare counties – three.

There are smaller numbers of monitored bathing places in the landlocked Viljandi, Rapla and Põlva counties.

Lembi Tiks said the Health Board cannot prevent the public from bathing, which is why the number of monitored bathing places must be increased.

"Since it is vital to protect human health, it is important to increase the number of public bathing places, and motivate their managers to check regularly the water quality."

Information on water quality monitoring is available here (in Estonian), and is reportedly always provided on-site to the public via signage.

The removal of rubbish bins means that the Health Board is saying that the beach owners, generally local municipalities, as well as the public, should take greater responsibility for keeping bathing areas clean and tidy, and free of garbage.

 "If there is a lot of rubbish on the beach, the beach will be closed," a Health Board representative told daily Eesti Päevaleht (link in Estonian).

The Health Board says bathers should always ensure that water is clean before taking a dip – in addition to the information provided, an oily, opaque or unusual color or odor to a body of water, as well as proximity to pollutions sources such as sewers or ports, are all grounds for giving a swimming spot a miss. If a swimmer has an open wound, only officially designated sites should be used, the board adds.

Coronavirus regulations still apply

Additionally, given the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing must be maintained at public bathing areas.

Last year's bathing season saw almost 600 samples taken from all monitored locations, of which about 200 the Health Board tested.

Samples are monitored for two indicator bacteria, E.coli and intestinal enterococci - commonly to be found in warm blooded mammals' guts – including those of humans.

Since these bacteria can survive in the water environment for a short time, they are good indicators for determining possible faecal contamination.

Previous summers have seen outbreaks of cyanobacteria in Estonia's seawater which, while often not leading to beach closures, are recommended to be avoided, assuming anyone would want to swim in such conditions in the first place.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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