Beach Safety

During the summer months Windsor-Essex County beaches are a great way to relax, cool down and have some fun. But, to make sure your day at the beach doesn’t become a day at the doctors, you should always check to see if the water is safe to swim.

What beaches does the Health Unit monitor and how often?

View a map of Essex County showing the location of the ten monitored beaches.

Public Health Inspectors at the Health Unit monitor water quality at 10 public beaches within the Windsor- Essex area. View a list of the beaches and the results, or call our beach hotline at 519-258-2146 ext. 426 (H2O). Each week from mid-June to mid-September, we take five water samples from along the beach front and submit these samples to the public health lab in London, Ontario for bacteriological testing.

What do you test for?

Every week, an environmental assessment is conducted to determine if there are any signs of contamination or hazards. The water samples taken are tested for levels of E.coli, which are bacteria, very small in size that are found in the intestines and feces of humans and animals. When E.coli is found in water, it usually means that there are other harmful bacteria in the water as well. When there are high levels of E. coli, people can get sick from the water.

The Health Unit does not sample the water for Blue- Green Algae levels. These water samples are taken by the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA), and the results of these samples are reported to the Health Unit and we post these results on WECHU’s beach report page. Learn more about Blue-Green Algae.

How do I know if the water is safe for swimming?

WECHU Beach Warning sign

The water at the beach may look clean, but it may not be safe for swimming. Before going in, it’s a good idea to find out what the beach water results are and assess the beach for possible signs of contamination. When the water samples have E. coli levels that are 100 per 100mL of water or higher, a sign to warn people of possible health risks is posted. At these levels swimming is not recommended. If the E. coli count is 1000 per 100mL of water or higher, it’s NOT SAFE to swim and the beach will be CLOSED.

WECHU Beach Closure sign

If a sign is posted, it is important that you read the sign and follow the warnings. For your safety, please do not ignore any signs that are posted.

Does rain affect the beach water?

Weather conditions are the leading factors that affect water quality.

Bacteria levels elevate with an increase in rain and with the strength of the wind blowing onto the shore. Rainwater washes fecal material from cats, dogs, birds, and other wildlife into storm sewers which flow directly into nearby rivers and lakes. We recommend that you don’t swim for at least 48 hours after a rainfall, or if the water is cloudy. Calm, clear water is usually associated with lower bacterial levels, while rough or cloudy water often means higher levels of bacteria.

WECHU Beach Rainfall notice sign

How does bacteria in the beach water affect me?

Certain types of bacteria found in water can cause a number of illnesses. The most common are stomach and intestinal illnesses such as vomiting and diarrhea, along with lung, eye, ear, nose, or throat infections or skin issues. Swallowing contaminated water is the main way you may get sick.

Bacteria can also enter the body through the ears, eyes, nose, or through broken skin.

Physical hazards are also a possible danger when swimming in polluted water. If water isn’t clear, objects like rocks and broken glass are much less visible and more likely to cause injury. If you can’t see your feet underwater when you’re standing in waist deep water, you should not go swimming.

What’s polluting our beaches?

The Health Unit orders beach closures due to increased bacteria levels caused by water pollution. There are many sources of water pollution, including chemical and biological pollutants from factories, farms, boats, marinas and city streets. In rare cases, the Medical Officer of Health may order a beach closure due to a chemical or other hazardous spill.

Always look for drainage pipes at the beach and avoid swimming near them. These pipes drain polluted water from streets and may end up in the beach water.

How can I help reduce water pollution?

  • Always pick up your animal’s waste. Pet waste is a major source of bacteria in water.
  • Don’t use soap in the beach water as it feeds the algae and bacteria.
  • Don’t litter. Throw your waste in the receptacles.
  • Dispose of human waste in a sanitary manner.
  • Do not feed or leave out food to attract animals or birds as they leave droppings.
  • Do not go in the water if you have an infection or an open wound.
  • Ensure your septic system is in good working order.

In agricultural areas:

  • Fence animals away from streams and give them other sources of water.
  • Ensure feedlot and manure pile runoff is properly contained.

If you think a beach is contaminated, contact us at 519-258-2146 ext. 4475. It is important that we know about suspected beach water contamination, so we can help protect you from harmful exposure. If you think you may have become ill from beach water, be sure to see your health care provider.

Remember these beach safety tips:

  • Check for beach results online or by calling our beach hotline (519-258-2146 ext. 426) before going to the beach.
  • Read and obey the signs posted at the beach.
  • Don’t go swimming if you can’t see your feet underwater when you’re standing in waist deep water.
  • Don’t go swimming if the water is rough, cloudy or green.
  • Don’t swim for at least 48 hours after a heavy rainfall or wind.
  • Look for drainage pipes at the beach and avoid swimming near them.

Don’t forget about Sun Safety when you’re at the Beach.

Here are some tips on how to protect yourself:

  • From April to September in Canada when the UV Index is 3 or higher, protect your skin.
  • From 11 am to 3 pm limit your time in the sun.
  • Stay in the shade as much as possible. If there isn’t any shade, create your own with umbrellas.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect your head, face, ears and back of neck.
  • Wear sunglasses or prescription lenses with full UVA and UVB protection at all times when in the sun.
  • Wear tightly woven clothing.
  • Generously apply sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher and is labelled ‘broad spectrum’ and ‘water resistant'.
  • Put sunscreen on all exposed skin 20 minutes before you go out.
  • Reapply when required (read the label) especially after swimming, strenuous exercise or toweling off.
  • Consider using sunscreen lip balm (30 SPF) for lips.


Health Canada. (2009). Recreational water quality. Retrieved from  

National Steering Committee on Content for Sun Safety Messages. The Recommended Core Content for Sun Safety Messages in Canada: briefing on the results of the 2014–15 National Consensus Process. Unpublished.

Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. (2014). Beach management protocol. Toronto, ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. (2014). Beach management guidance document. Toronto: ON: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of the Environment. (1998). In Brief: Why beaches are posted.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2016). Beaches. Retrieved from

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