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Great Lakes Article:

E.Coli Bacteria Shuts Down Area Beaches

Toronto Star

First it was the swimming pools that closed. Now it's the beaches.

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 approach.

"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 continue.

"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 clear out."
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