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Is Ireland's water quality really excellent?

You might have heard the report earlier this year that 75% of swimming spots in Ireland have excellent water quality by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You might also know that these test are only carried out from June 1st to September 15th- when there is less rainfall and consequently less agricultural runoff. As surfers we all use the sea even more so outside of these months and I know that at my local when the river mouth is flowing heavily the scent in the water is heavy with manure and who knows what else.

I say who knows what else but a recent study by NUIG Galway has found that a specific E.coli STEC, which is carried by cattle and sheep and can survive in seawater is commonly found in many of these bathing areas deemed of excellent quality. A microscopic quantity of this bacteria has the potential to do serious harm to humans. Ingestion can cause serious illness including bloody diarrhea.

About 30 per cent of STEC cases require hospitalisation and about 10 per cent of those infected develop hemolytic uremic syndrome – a complication which can cause renal failure and be fatal.

Local authorities who test waters take small 10ml samples and deploy the Colilert indicator system, which detects the presence of bacteria such as E.coli. They aren't testing which types of E.coli are present just the overall levels. The researchers however, take 30-litre samples and test specifically for STEC.

Ireland has been shown to have the highest levels of the bug in bathing waters, 10 times above the EU average. So much for excellent!

More details on the survey are available at

Researchers are now looking for infrequent water users as part of their survey.

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