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Achill’s Blue Flags downed by bacteria

Achill’s Blue Flags downed by bacteria

Anton McNulty

Heavy rain has been blamed for the elevated levels of E. coli bacteria in water at four of Achill’s Blue Flag beaches that resulted in the flags being taken down for a short period over the weekend.
Four of Achill’s five Blue Flags were taken down on Friday afternoon after results of routine water-sample testing earlier in the week found they were ‘slightly’ above the mandatory quality levels. The flags were reinstated less than 24 hours later, however.
The Blue Flags were briefly removed from Keel, Keem, Dugort and the Golden Strand beaches. Further tests were carried out later in the week which showed that the levels had fallen below the recommended level, and all flags were raised again on Saturday afternoon.
The initial tests were carried out by the EPA last Monday. The agency passed on the findings to Mayo County Council, which in turn informed the HSE that the bacteria levels were above the recommended levels. The decision was taken to remove the Blue Flags on all of the affected beaches, as the water quality did not comply with the bathing-water regulations. Notices advising swimmers, surfers and paddlers not to enter the water were also erected at these locations.
Larry Walsh, Senior Executive Scientist at the Environmental Section of Mayo County Council told The Mayo News that abnormal rainfall on the day of testing may have led to the elevated levels. He said samples taken from the affected locations on Thursday and Friday showed the levels were below normal and that he believes it was a ‘once-off’ incident.
“We never had to issue advisory notices before and hopefully this was a once-off event. There was a lot of rain in Achill on the Monday leading to increased levels of fresh water in the beach area, and it may have been the cause, but the circumstances are still under investigation,” he said.
Achill councillor Micheál McNamara welcomed the reinstatement of the Blue Flags. “I don’t think it was an issue at all because it was only for a period of 24 hours that the flags were taken down for. It was one of those things with the heavy rain fall. It was very unfortunate and very unusual for it to happen on all of these beaches,” he said.
Cllr McNamara added that he would be looking for information at the next council meeting regarding the readings and the scientific reasons for the increased levels of bacteria.
A similar incident occurred on three beaches in Clare earlier in the month, when routine tests on water samples at Lahinch, Kilkee and Spanish Point beaches showed increased levels of bacteria.
The beaches were closed to swimmers but the restrictions were soon lifted when further samples showed a dramatic reduction of levels of bacteria in the water. Excessive rainfall resulting in runoff from land was the explanation given for the increased levels of E. coli in those incidents.