Government of New Brunswick

Are all Provincial Park beaches tested?

A “Water Monitoring Protocol for Provincial Park Beaches” (Protocol) has been established which includes an evaluation of all Provincial Park beaches. This new Protocol replaces the Parlee Beach and Murray Beach Protocols and combines them with other Provincial Park beaches into one document. The following beaches were reviewed and the frequency of monitoring determined for each:

Name of Provincial Park

Monitoring Frequency

Parlee Beach

Daily

Murray Beach

3 days per week

Mactaquac

2 days per week

New River Beach, Mount Carleton, Oak Bay

1 day per week

Miscou and Val-Comeau

Once every two weeks

Herring Cove, Fundy Trail Parkway, Anchorage

No sampling

The new Protocol is based on the same principles as the Parlee Beach Protocol (see description of surveys below), and follows the same process that was in place in 2017:

  • Water samples collected from 5 different locations at each beach
  • Water samples sent to accredited lab for analysis
  • Results reviewed by a Medical Officer of Health to determine if the water is “Suitable for Swimming” or if a “No Swimming” advisory will be issued
  • Signage will be placed at key locations within the Provincial Park
  • All water quality results, and current beach status, will be publically available online at beaches.gnb.ca

This Protocol will be implemented prior to the start of the 2018 swimming season.

Why are the other Provincial Park beaches sampled at different frequencies, when Parlee Beach is sampled daily?

The Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality recommend monitoring of swimming waters at a minimum frequency of once per week during the swimming season, with increased monitoring recommended for beaches that are highly frequented. Similarly, under certain scenarios, a reduction in the recommended sampling frequency may be justified. Given that over 350,000 people visit Parlee Beach each year, and that water quality results are of concern, a sampling frequency of 7 days per week is appropriate.

As recommended by the Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality, an Environmental Health and Safety Survey (EHSS) was completed at all Provincial Park beaches. The beaches and frequencies were based on risk assessments conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health using information obtained from these Environmental Health and Safety Surveys.

Are other beaches in New Brunswick tested?

While some samples are collected at some beaches, there is no formal recreational water monitoring program in New Brunswick. The locations sampled are typically public beaches that Regional Health Protection offices have identified as being popular recreational destinations.

Based on risk assessment conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health beach monitoring was not required at Herring Cove, Anchorage and Fundy Trail Parkway. The rationale was that the water is extremely cold, the areas are well flushed and people do not generally swim at these locations. This is fully in accordance with the Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality which recommend that an Environmental Health and Safety Survey be completed, which acknowledge that under certain scenarios a reduction in the recommended sampling frequency of once per week may be justified. 

Who ensures beach water quality is monitored at Provincial Park beaches?

The Department of Environment and Local Government is responsible for the oversight of sample collection and ensuring that proper training on collecting samples is provided. Only personnel that have received proper training are allowed to collect water samples at these beaches. The water samples are then sent to an independent, and accredited, laboratory for analysis. A Medical Officer of Health receives and interprets the monitoring results.

What bacteria does the province test for at Provincial Park beaches?

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is the most appropriate indicator of faecal contamination in fresh recreational waters, and enterococci is the most appropriate indicator of faecal contamination in marine recreational waters. Therefore, the indicator bacteria monitored at a particular beach depends on whether or not the beach has fresh water or marine water. For this season, both parameters will continue to be tested for Parlee and Murray Beaches.

What is considered a safe level of bacteria in recreational water?

The Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality have established guideline values that strike a balance between potential health risks and the benefits of recreational water use in terms of physical activity and enjoyment. There is always a slight risk of health effects when swimming, just as there are risks associated with other common activities, such as driving your car.

The Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality consider the water safe for swimming when bacteria levels are below the guideline values listed in the table below. In these cases the water is open and suitable for swimming.

If any of the guideline values below are exceeded, it is no longer considered an acceptable risk, and the public is warned that the water is not suitable for swimming

Enterococci

E. coli

A geometric mean of most recent five samples equal to or less than 35 enterococci/100 ml

A geometric mean of most recent five samples equal to or less than 200 E. coli/100 ml

A single-sample maximum equal to or less than 70 enterococci/100 ml

A single-sample maximum equal to or less than 400 E. coli/100 ml

What does a “No Swimming” advisory mean?  Am I still allowed to swim?

A “No Swimming” advisory means that the bacterial levels found in the water exceed the guidelines values established in the Guidelines for Canadian Recreational Water Quality.

The beach is not closed, and it does not mean that you will get sick if you swim during an advisory. However, swimming in waters with bacteria levels above the Guideline Values increase the risk of illness beyond everyday levels. The Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health recommends avoiding activities that are likely to cause some water to be swallowed, such as when the body or face are immersed or frequently wetted by spray. It is also recommended that people who have open sores or wounds should avoid contact with the water.

The beach would only be closed to the public where evidence suggests that continued operation poses a significant public health risk. Examples of situations that may warrant a beach closure are:

  • suspicion that the area is responsible for a waterborne disease outbreak;
  • a sewage, chemical or oil spill; or
  • sharp objects/debris or other public safety hazards

Will I get sick if I recently swam in waters where there is now a warning?

Swimming in waters with bacteria levels above the Guideline Values does not mean that you will get sick, but it increases the risk. The level of risk will depend on for how long and by how much the Guideline values are exceeded.  

Possible health risks of swimming in water with a high Enterococci or E. coli count could include gastrointestinal upset, skin irritation or infection, upper respiratory illness.

What should I do if I think I am getting sick?

You can get sick from a variety of exposures in your environment (contact with other sick people, contaminated food, contaminated environments etc). If you experience symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, fever, abdominal cramps or rash that are not resolving you should seek attention from a health professional.

How can the water be rated as safe one day and unsafe the next? Why does it change?

It is common to find E. coli and Enterococci bacteria in surface water and it is normal for these levels to fluctuate. Certain environmental conditions such as rainfall can play a role in influencing water quality as well as other sources including discharged sewage, storm water runoff, animal waste, and even through swimmers themselves. 

Why is a No Swimming Advisory issued due to rainfall at Parlee Beach?

Heavy rainfall creates surface runoff that can introduce bacteria from the environment into the water.  

Issuing a pre-emptive “No swimming” advisory for short periods immediately after rainfall events is a way of helping to limit swimmer exposure to possible bacterial contamination. 

Since 2001, rainfall levels that exceeded 10mm within a 24 hour period required a “poor” rating to automatically be triggered at Parlee Beach. This was based on water quality data that was available at that time that showed a clear link between heavy rainfall and poor water quality at Parlee Beach. Public Health considered it important to include this information in the new Parlee Beach Water Quality Monitoring Protocol that is now in effect.

Why does rainfall not trigger an advisory at other Provincial Park beaches like it does at Parlee Beach?

The weather and environmental factors that influence water quality at fresh and salt water beaches can vary by location and local circumstances.

At other Provincial Park beaches, there is currently a lack of evidence to suggest that after rainfall events water quality is impacted to a level that would cause an exceedance of Guideline Values. However, rainfall data is intended to be collected at Murray Beach this swimming season and will evaluated to determine if a relationship can be established. 

How long does it take for the water samples to be tested and analyzed?

Once samples are collected, it can take up to 48 hours to receive results. Samples must be correctly labelled, packed and transported to the laboratory. Once received at the laboratory, the samples must be registered, prepared and analyzed. Results are then documented and reported to the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health for interpretation. 

Why are some sampling results missing on certain days?

On occasion, the collection of all required samples may not be possible due to weather/environmental conditions, safety concerns or other unforeseen circumstances beyond our control. In these situations, results will be reported in the above table as blank, and the most recently available data will be used to determine the current beach status.

Why are the results for E. coli being reported with different units this year at Parlee Beach and Murray Beach? And why are the units different from those being reported at Oak Bay, Mactaquac and Mount Carleton?

In 2018, the Moncton RPC lab is being used to analyse water quality samples collected from Parlee Beach and Murray Beach. The RPC laboratories in Moncton and Fredericton use different analytical methods to test for E. coli.  The Fredericton laboratory uses a membrane based technique that reports results as MPN, or Most Probable Number. The Moncton lab uses a membrane filter technique that reports results as CFU, or Colony Forming Units. Both methods are accredited and provide appropriate results.  Both methods take approximately 24 hours for analysis. The Fredericton lab is being used to analyse water samples collected from Oak Bay, Mactaquac and Mount Carleton.

Why doesn’t RPC use the same analytical method to test for E. coli at the Moncton and Fredericton locations?

The RPC laboratories in Moncton and Fredericton use different analytical methods to test for E. coli. This is due to historical reasons. In the past, both locations operated independently so the lab equipment, test methods and analyst training requirements are different.  RPC determined several years ago that there was no need for both locations to use the same test method, given the cost associated with purchasing new equipment and training staff and the fact that clients were accustomed to receiving results using the current method.  Both laboratories are accredited and both methods provide appropriate results that are essentially equivalent.

What is the difference between the units of “CFU” and “MPN”?

CFU stands for 'Colony Forming Units' and refers to the number of viable bacterial cells in a sample per unit of volume. MPN stands for 'Most Probable Number' and refers to an analysis that uses dilution methodology and a probability calculation to determine a statistical estimate of the number of viable cells in a given volume of sample. The two units of measure are widely accepted and used in water quality monitoring programs. The results between the two are essentially equivalent.

Who can I contact if I have any questions or concerns?

If you have any questions or concerns about the water quality monitoring or testing at New Brunswick’s beaches, please contact the Department of Health.