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Bathing water frequently asked questions

Why is the bathing water quality monitored?

Bathing waters are monitored in England and Wales to comply with European and National legislation. In 2006, new European legislation came into force to protect public health, improve beach management practices and standardise the information provided to bathers across Europe. In 2008, new Regulations were made to meet bathing water quality standards, take adequate measures to protect bathers' health during pollution incidents and display bathing water quality information.

How is bathing water quality measured?

At the moment, current rules require water sample collection at popular bathing waters throughout the bathing season. The samples are analysed for many indications of pollution (microbiological, physical and chemical).

In 2012, the new legislation will require water samples to be taken and analysed from every bathing water on an identified list. The water samples will be analysed for two types of bacteria and reported over a 4 year period.

What are the bathing water quality standards?

At the moment, at the end of the bathing season, the sampling results are compared to standards and the water quality of every bathing water is classified accordingly.

From 2015, the sampling results will be based on a 4 year average. By the end of 2015 water must meet new, more stringent standards.

What are the health risks of bathing in the sea?

There is a risk of gastroenteritis (major symptoms include vomiting and diarrhoea) from bathing in sea water. It is very unlikely that there is a risk of a more serious illness.

Some beaches have a higher risk of getting gastroenteritis after bathing, with possibly a risk of ear, nose or throat infection.

The revised Bathing Water Directive (rBWD) quality standards are based upon the World Health Organisation (WHO) approach and were derived from years of scientific research on the relationship between bathing and health.

Are there any discharges into bathing waters?

Yes, although over recent years huge improvements have been made to the quality, frequency and regulation of discharges into bathing waters.

The main microbiological inputs into bathing waters are as follows:-

  • Sewage treatment works - these days the outfall pipes are long and the effluent has been thoroughly treated prior to discharge.
  • Urban and Rural Watercourses - pollution from human and animal sources.
  • Combined Sewer Overflows - some sewage systems carry raw sewage and surface water together. Sometimes during heavy rain, excess flows have to be discharged to nearby waters to prevent homes being flooded with sewage.

What can I do to reduce the risk of illness after bathing?

The water quality at some locations will tend to be worse during and after heavy rain so it is advisable not to bathe at these times. Also, simple measures should be taken such as washing hands before eating after bathing. This is especially important if children have been playing in streams as these tend to contain more bacteria than the sea.

Should I visit other local beaches that are not listed or award winning?

Yes, there are lots of other beautiful beaches to visit on Gower with very good water quality. Obviously, it would be impractical to monitor the water quality at every beach in the area so suitable beaches have to be selected. These beaches are chosen because they may have higher visitor numbers or have previously won awards.

Awards are often given for land-based criteria (such as toilets, lifeguards, environmental education) as well as water quality and some of the best beaches are not suitable for awards but are still well worth a visit.

Almost anywhere around Swansea / Gower is fine for bathing if you can safely get to the water. However, we do not recommend bathing very close to outfalls eg. Brandy Cove or where currents are tricky eg. Whiteford or Three Cliffs Bay.

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