Comment: Portobello beach standards must be upheld

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So miserable has been the summer so far that a trip to the beach has not featured highly on our list of a warm and relaxing day out But even if the weather does turn better in the coming weeks there are other concerns for residents in the Capital wishing to enjoy the pleasures of Portobello West Beach.

It has now been slated as among those likely to be rated “poor” due to toxic sewage and animal waste and where bacteria and viruses in the water could pose serious risks to the health of anyone paddling, swimming or surfing.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has given initial estimates that 21 bathing waters in Scotland will be classed as “poor” under tough new European safety standards. The list includes seven previous Seaside Award winners, including East Beach at Dunbar in East Lothian.

Portobello Beach was once regarded as the Scottish Riviera. It has long been a magnet for families seeking a day out by the sea. And while it could not compete in temperature terms with Tenerife and the Costa del Sol, its proximity and ready access draws tens of thousands every year. Where better to cool off on a warm summer’s day without all the hassle of air fares, luggage and passports?

The issue has arisen now because this is the first year that new European rules on bathing water standards come fully into force since they were introduced in 2006. Under these rules, Scotland’s 84 officially designated bathing waters must be tested every four years for human and animal waste, e.Coli and intestinal bacteria.

It is only right that high standards are enforced and maintained. Exposure can cause infections in ears, nose throat and stomach and in some cases can be fatal. As Andy Cummins, of Surfers Against Sewage, made clear, the beaches that fail “urgently need to adopt new actions and measures to ensure public water quality is safe.”

On the positive side, most beaches are likely to be classified as excellent, good or sufficient, and that 22 will be rated “excellent”, with very low contamination. They include Broad Sands at North Berwick in East Lothian, Broughty Ferry in Dundee and Gullane, East Lothian.