Children playing in contaminated water at popular Browns Bay beach in Auckland

November 9, 2019 in DunedIn


Children were among people in the water today blissfully unaware of a health alert at one of Auckland’s most popular beaches.

High levels of E. coli, which can cause severe abdominal cramps, bloody diarrhoea and vomiting, have been present at Browns Bay Beach on the North Shore since the middle of last month.

E. coli levels have been up to 10,000 times over the guidelines at a stormwater outflow at the northern end of the beach, but on the beach itself the levels are slightly elevated, said Auckland Council’s Safeswim general manager Nick Vigar.

A group of people collecting kina at Browns Bay beach today. Photo / Sylive Whinray
A group of people collecting kina at Browns Bay beach today. Photo / Sylive Whinray

“If it was my kids I wouldn’t be taking them swimming at Browns Bay,” he said.

There is a sign at the outfall and an electronic sign near a popular playground at the beach warning of a “high risk” wastewater fault, but no signs on the beach itself.

There is also a red alert for Browns Bay on council’s Safeswim website.

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North Shore Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care has issued its own alert, urging all dog owners to keep dogs out of the contaminated sea water at Browns Bay to avoid contracting E. coli that can lead to blood poisoning among other nasties.

When the Herald visited the beach this morning two young children were making sand castles and digging channels for the sea water, a man had gone for a swim after a run, a
family was diving for kina and dogs were frolicking in the water.

Angela Liu and husband Xiao Feng pulled their children, York (6) and Seline (3), away from the water’s edge when told of the health risk.

Liu said the family visited the beach every weekend because the children loved it so much, but were unaware of the health alert and had not seen any signs.

Elliot Connolly was annoyed to hear about the health alert after a refreshing, one-minute swim having just run 19km from Devonport to Browns Bay.

“I’ll be stinking of E. coli,” he joked.

At the southern end of the beach John Fauo’o pointed at his mother and three friends in the sea collecting kina.

“Everyone likes kina,” he said, but was not sure if the Samoan family and friends from Avondale would eat the seafood after being told about the health risks.

Elliot Connolly was annoyed to learn about contaminated water at Browns Bay after a swim. Photo / Sylive Whinray
Elliot Connolly was annoyed to learn about contaminated water at Browns Bay after a swim. Photo / Sylive Whinray

Vigar said the problem – “human in nature” – had been traced to a broken public wastewater pipe that runs under Oban Rd and a collapsed private wastewater pipe at the northern end of the beach.

“It’s not a massive health risk by virtue of dilution,” said Vigar, adding water samples from the beach were being tested daily. The issue had been downgraded from a black alert to red alert, he said.

Watercare, the council-controlled organisation responsible for wastewater, is working to fix the public pipe and working with homeowners to undertake repair works on their properties, said the CCO’s network efficiency manager Anin Nama.

Sean Johnson, a vet at North Shore Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care, said people needed to be aware of the problem of contaminated water at North Shore beaches and the effect on dogs.

Xiao Feng and Angela Liu with their children York (left) and Seline at Browns Bay Beach. Photo / Sylvie Whinray
Xiao Feng and Angela Liu with their children York (left) and Seline at Browns Bay Beach. Photo / Sylvie Whinray

E. coli is a bacterial infection found in the lower intestines of dogs and can be serious if left untreated. It can lead to blood poisoning, or septicaemia, vomiting and diarrhoea, according to the vet.

Johnson said the vet practice saw cases of E. coli throughout the year, but could not pin down any cases to the current problem at Browns Bay, saying the symptoms usually develop three to seven days after exposure.

He said contaminated water was an on-going problem at North Shore beaches with a lot of young children using playgrounds at popular beaches like Browns Bay and Takapuna, a lot of people walking dogs, including particularly at-risk young dogs.



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