July 17, 2020

Bathing water quality : where are the best places to swim this summer ?

Where are the best places to swim this summer? What are the health risks? Just two of the questions that summer visitors are quite rightly asking themselves when planning their holidays. The answer: choose destinations that have "Démarche Qualité des Eaux de Baignade" (DEQB) bathing water quality certification; the only scheme that certifies and monitors every aspect of water quality for safe bathing. Here’s why...

The ecosystems of bathing waters in general, and coastal waters in particular, are particularly exposed to the risk of water-borne pollution, including pathogenic microorganisms, hydrocarbons, toxic microalgae and nitrates. Maintaining the quality of these natural environments and the water they contain is a major economic challenge, given the many activities that depend upon it either directly or indirectly.

For these locations, the challenge is not limited to simply identifying pollution. “What we offer is proactive management”, explains Pascal Kohaut, Bathing Water Project Leader at Saur, whose work is based on European Directive 2006/7/EC on bathing water quality. “To put it simply, we use a bespoke organisational structure and high-speed analytical systems to identify the causes of pollution, provide daily monitoring of water quality and act ahead of potential problems”. Providing this service demands detailed knowledge of the catchment area, wastewater treatment facilities, the built environment, industrial plants, craft-based activities, farms and leisure facilities, and also of how beaches are used in terms of dog walking and horse riding, as well as tidal conditions. Once all these factors have been identified and the catchment area modelled, the teams at Saur implement a monitoring strategy agreed with local councillors on the basis of individual beach sensitivity profiles and a proactive policy of providing public information and temporarily closing beaches where necessary.

This uncompromising approach to quality has attracted 121 bathing destinations out of a total of around 200 sites managed by Saur. This means that 45 local authorities now benefit from continual updates based on around 9,000 high-speed tests conducted every season. Saur operators are on call throughout the season to take samples from the natural environment, which are then sent immediately to our laboratories, including at weekends and on public holidays. High-speed analyses are conducted on the faecal pollution indicators represented by faecal bacteria: Escherichia coli and intestinal enterococci. If the results indicate an imminent risk of pollution, the local mayor is notified and provided with the information required to decide whether or not to close the beach temporarily.

Seeking out pollution: year-round monitoring to ensure safety throughout the summer season

The key to effective bathing water management is reducing the number of potential contamination sources. This is why Saur works closely with its partner local authorities to conduct exploratory analyses throughout the year during adverse weather conditions to identify sources of contamination, and put in place the measures needed to resolve the issue. “So, for example, we need to investigate faulty wastewater drainage connections during rainy periods when wastewater is diverted into stormwater drains and discharged directly into the sea,” explains Frédérique Nakache-Danglot, a microbiologist in the Saur Technical Department. This type of pollution can be reduced only when faulty pipeline connections have been identified and repaired by members of the public; a process that requires education and time to raise awareness and engage responsibility.

Online resources available exclusively to certified local authorities and their summer visitors

Analyses that complement those conducted by Regional Health Authorities

Under French law, all bathing waters are monitored within a national regulatory framework governed by the French Public Health Code and administered by the Regional Health Agencies (ARS). These inspections are made during the bathing season, usually between mid-June and mid-September. They are conducted at the most frequently used bathing destinations at intervals of approximately 10 days (excluding weekends and public holidays). Analysis results are available 48 hours after sampling, and provide a snapshot of water quality at a given moment in time so that its compliance with bathing water standards can be checked. They are also used to produce the national and European classifications referred to in the 2006 Directive.

The role of Saur as a supplier and outsourced service provider is to provide the local authority with the results of additional self-testing. Based on a frequency that reflects the risks involved and complies fully with health and preventive alert thresholds, Saur provides the local authority with accurate information within 4-12 hours, depending on the system used. These early warnings of deteriorating water quality or potential future pollution provide local authorities with the best-possible support for decisions about opening and closing beaches to ensure that the public is never exposed to contaminated bathing waters.

What about Blue Flag scheme ? And the European classification ?

The Blue Flag scheme is a general marketing accreditation that cannot provide an accurate reflection of water quality. It reflects the previous year’s classification, and focuses on those beaches classified as ‘excellent’ on the basis of weekly Regional Health Authority analyses to the dismay of the Surfrider Foundation and the water companies, given the excellent work carried out by local authorities to protect bathing water quality. The European classification of countries on the basis of their bathing water quality disadvantages the countries of northern Europe, where summer storms are becoming more frequent every year as a result of climate change, which explains France's poor ranking in terms of bathing destination monitoring. It is also based on the beach status declarations made by EU member states, some of which exclude bathing destinations that are too close to urban centres and therefore potentially exposed to pollution.

Can you catch coronavirus from swimming in seawater? No says Ifremer

In mid-April, the French ocean science institute Ifremer analysed seawater and shellfish samples taken from some twenty locations in France to assess the potential risk of Covid-19 spreading in seawater. The molecular analysis results proved negative. So in terms of beaches, the main coronavirus-related risk is therefore not the bathing water, but rather the failure to take personal protective measures and maintain social distancing.

Key points to remember

  • It will always be better to avoid swimming after rain.
  • A Blue Flag rating based on last year's classification is no guarantee of healthy bathing water in the current year.
  • The health monitoring carried out by Regional Health Authorities during the bathing season is used to monitor the European classification of beaches, and does not cover weekends or public holidays.
  • The ‘Démarche Qualité des Eaux de Baignade’ provides guaranteed active management of beaches enabling them to be closed and reopened as necessary.
  • Official research conducted by Ifremer demonstrates a total absence of Covid-19 in bathing water and shellfish.

Press Contacts

Contact presse: Saur - Laurent Maillard - 06 60 59 77 07 - laurent.maillard@saur.com