The Health Board is urging caution in taking a dip at three different beaches in Pärnu and in the capital, after water readings have returned poor quality levels for the fourth year in a row. The board does not bar swimming at the locations, but recommends children and other at-risk groups do not do so.
Aune Annus-Urmet of the Health Board (Terviseamet) told ERR that: "At the end of each bathing season, the quality of bathing water is assessed on the basis of the preceding four seasons, adding that in the case of the three beaches, two in Pärnu in southwestern Estonia, a major summer resort town, and one just outside Tallinn city center, the risk of exposure to pollution is high.
While EU rules permit domestic authorities to close beaches in such cases, Estonia does not implement this, issuing instead recommendations.
In this case, children, those with a weak immune system should not swim at the beaches in question: Stroomi beach (Stroomirand, also known as "Stromka") in Tallinn, and the Vana-Pärnu and Raeküla beaches in Pärnu.
In the event of sustaining an open wound, individuals should also steer clear of the water at the three locations, Annus-Urmet added, also saying that swimmers should avoid swallowing water, inadvertently or otherwise.
Ultimately, decisions were down to the individual, she said: "All our major bodies of water are open to the public and we go everywhere at our own risk. We cannot just close down bathing places," she said.
"If constant pollution readings appear relating to, for instance, microbiological indicators or oil pollution, we can issue a ban, but even this cannot be checked, and the public is still responsible," she added.
The three beaches in question have seen poor quality bating water readings for four consecutive years, hence the recommendations. The three beaches can certainly see individual "blue flag" days when water conditions are declared good, Annus-Urmet added, a status which also depends on other indicators such as water temperature, wave height and wind direction. Stroomi rand recently did in deed get a blue-flag day recently, she added.
As to causes of the poor water quality as a whole, Annus-Urmet pointed to the nearby port facilities, in the case of Stroomi rand, along with wastewater outlets, natural streams and the fact it lies adjacent to a very shallow bay.
In Pärnu, cattle may be to blame, she said. Large numbers of cows grazing on adjacent pasture may lead to effluent entering the seawater, though, Annus-Urmet said, moves are being made to curb the number of livestock kept so close to the beaches.
Close to 60 public bathing spots are open in Estonia, half-a-dozen more than last year and with over half of them being assessed as "very good" with regard to current bathing water conditions.
The owners of the beach, usually local municipalities, are responsible for monitoring bathing water and other conditions on-site.
Annus-Urmet added that on the basis of recent readings, she would certainly herself swim at Stroomirand at present, reiterating that there are also a large number of desirable swimming spots nationwide which have good water quality readings.
The three beaches mentioned above are near built-up areas, which make pollution more likely, but, given the array of possible sources of same, make detecting its origins harder, she said.
While not directly referenced by Annus-Urmet, cyanobacteria - blue-green algae - is sometimes found in summertime at popular beaches, and also in inland bodies of water.
Editor: Andrew Whyte