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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Swimming in Halifax Harbour?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2008 at 3:01 PM

Mayor Peter Kelly made a splash last week when he told the Chamber of Commerce that thanks to the Harbour Solutions project, people will soon be swimming in the now-clean waters of Halifax Harbour.The good folks at CBC doubted Kelly, and so had water from three locations---The Dingle on the Northwest Arm, Black Rock Beach in Point Pleasant Park and Lions Park Beach on the Bedford Basin---tested for enterococci bacteria, which are considered the best benchmark for contamination from sewage.

The Ceeb announced that all tests came up roses---fewer than 10 colonies of Enterococci per 100 millimetres and, "The safe level for swimming is 35 colonies per 100 millilitres."

Well, there's some debate on that last point: the state of Hawaii closes beaches when the level reaches just seven colonies. Other locales go as high as 285. The 35 figure is itself seemingly pulled from thin air: it's the level when 19 of every 1,000 people in the water (1.9 percent) will be expected to get diarrhea. Which is just great for 981 people, but kind of sucks for the other 19.

And while bacterial contamination is of greatest immediate worry to we humans, the heavy metals and pharmaceuticals flushed down our sewers have frightening long-term consequences for the health of the oceans and sea life, and Harbour Solutions does nothing to address those concerns.

Regardless, more extensive and scientifically conducted testing is being done, and a full report is to presented to council later this month.

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