Swimming in safe waters
Torontonians are kicking off summer at beaches and pools across the city. But while splashing can be fun and a great way to cool off, how do we ensure that the waters we wade in are safe for us and the ecosystem?
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Let’s start with the great big lake. And jump in. Yes, it’s time to debunk the too-dirty-to-swim myth that is often attached to Toronto’s beaches. Last week, the City of Toronto marked its 10th anniversary as part of the Blue Flag Program, an internationally recognized eco-certification awarded to beaches and marinas that have achieved high standards in water quality, environmental education, environmental management, safety and services.
Toronto now has eight beaches with this eco-label, doubling in number since the first flag flew in 2005. According to Environmental Defence, who manages the Canadian Blue Flag program, the flag ensures that the beach is clean, has excellent facilities, and meets high safety and environmental standards. (We are in good company. There are more than 4,000 Blue Flags flying in 48 countries.)
So, where to swim? Flags fly at Cherry Beach, Hanlan’s Point Beach, Ward’s Island Beach and Woodbine Beach and now Bluffer’s Park Beach, Centre Island Beach, Gibraltar Point Beach, and Kew-Balmy Beach. The City of Toronto tests the water quality at all the supervised beaches and posts the results daily.
Outdoor pool season has just begun. And when pools are packed, you can’t help but to imagine what else is swimming along with you. Proper pool chemistry is key to preventing the spread of water-borne disease.
In Toronto, public pools and hot tubs are regulated under the province’s Health Protection and Promotion Act and inspected by Public Health Inspectors. You can look at pool inspection results online. (By the way, a recent report gives the Medical Officer of Health permission to pursue a bylaw that could require all recreational water facilities to post onsite notices disclosing inspection findings).
Chlorine is the disinfectant of choice. For the City’s outdoor pools, the standard is one part per million and they are tested every two hours as chlorine can escape the water due to various weather conditions.
But if you’re like me and shudder at the sight of lifeguards donning head-to-toe protective gear when adding chemicals at your local wading pool, then you may begin to look into the potential risks of exposure to these products.
Studies, such as this one in Discovery News, have linked exposure to chemicals in chlorinated pools with an increased risk of developing asthma, respiratory problems and even cancer. While these types of studies continue, there are precautions you can take while still enjoying pool time:
- The Canadian Partnership for Children’s Health and Environment suggests that babies under six months avoid exposure to chlorinated pools as their skin is very permeable, making it easier for chemicals to pass through.
- For frequent swimmers and those with respiratory problems, try lower chlorinated alternatives such as saltwater pools. Although these are not chlorine-free, they use alternative disinfection products like saline and bromine that also tend to be much gentler on the skin and eyes.
- Regardless of age, after a dip in the pool, wash thoroughly with soap and water to remove any traces of chlorine.
- Shower beforehand. Red and irritated eyes are caused by chloramines, a group of chemicals that forms when chlorine combines with substances such as body oils, lotions, saliva, sweat and urine.
Thumbnail courtesy: FLICKR- Netfalls Photography