First it was the swimming pools that closed. Now it's
Overheated city dwellers searching for relief from the sticky
summer humidity will have to think twice before taking a
cooling dip in Lake Ontario. Toronto's public health department
has posted signs warning of high E. coli levels at 12 of
the city's 14 beaches.
Tuesday marked the first time in two years that warnings
were posted at all city beaches, the tainted water largely
a result of overflow from the city's aging combined sewers
into Lake Ontario.
Yesterday, Bluffer's Park Beach and Budapest Park Beach
were declared safe for swimmers and reopened.
While signs deterred some beach-goers from splashing about
in the waters at Ashbridge's Bay, others took a cautious
"We went in, but only up to our waists," said Howard Gelman,
sitting in a beach chair enjoying a late afternoon snack.
"If we could just get rid of this pollution then the beach
would be great."
Swimming at beaches with high levels of E. coli — found
in animal and human waste — can cause ear, nose and throat
infections, upset stomachs and diarrhea.
"The beaches that tend to be the cleanest are furthest away
(from the sewer discharges)," said Cheryn Gervais of the
public works department, listing Hanlan's Point, Centre
Island and Ward's Island as among the city's cleanest beaches.
Gervais explained that the main pollution problems come
from an overflow of combined sewers, which normally separate
sanitary waste and storm runoff. Last week's heavy rains
caused the waste and runoff to mix together, increasing
E. coli levels at the beaches.
The $52 million Western Beaches Tunnel was designed to ameliorate
the problem by collecting the overflow from the combined
sewers into a tunnel and cleansing it before dumping it
into the lake. But the new tunnel wasn't enough to keep
the western beaches from closing this week.
"There are probably 1,200 kilometres of combined sewers
and 70 overflows. The tunnel we're cutting the ribbon for
on Friday only captures 10 of those," said Mike Price, of
the city's wastewater services.
Officials are hopeful that warnings will be dropped from
more beaches by the end of the week if the dry, sunny conditions
"Ultraviolet rays from the sun are good because they will
naturally disinfect the water," said Gervais. "It's essentially
a waiting game of dry weather and letting the water naturally
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