Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
How Environmental Health Professionals Keep Our Water Safe

You’re now packed and ready for another weekend outdoors.

You have your sleeping bags, your full cooler, sunscreen, and swimsuit.

Maybe you fill your trailer’s water tank once you arrive, fill up a water container or two for the campsite, and then head to the beach to cool off.

But have you ever stopped to think about how we keep water safe so you can drink it, take a hot shower or cool off on the beach?

Environmental public health professionals do proactive, science-based work behind the scenes to ensure your environment is safe, so you don’t have to worry and can enjoy the moments that really matter.

Two people take selfie on the beach

From September 26 to October 2 is Environmental Public Health Week.

Let’s learn a little more about the behind-the-scenes work that environmental public health professionals do and their role in contributing to healthy parks.

What is a public health professional?

Sometimes known as public health inspectors or environmental public health officers, these professionals use a wide range of strategies and interventions to prevent the occurrence of injuries and illnesses by minimizing environmental health risks to the public.

staff testing water

At Ontario Parks, we have a team of public health professionals who monitor and ensure compliance in a variety of areas such as:

  • Safe drinking water
  • Sewage systems
  • Safe recreational water
  • Food handling
  • Vector-borne diseases (such as Lyme disease)
  • Indoor air quality
  • Smoke-free facilities
  • Proactive health promotion.

What do they do in the parks?

Our team of public health professionals is responsible for a wide variety of activities to ensure public health compliance.

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Woman filling a blue bathtub with a park water tap

They work closely with local public health units and train staff to ensure safety standards are met.

One of their most important jobs is managing safe water in our parks, including drinking water and recreational water (beaches), and ensuring our sewage systems are functioning properly.

Drinking water

Did you know that drinking water in Ontario parks is regulated at the provincial level by the Health and Safety Promotion and Protection Act? is as safe as municipal water supply?

family filling jug

Staff have varying levels of training from the Walkerton Clean Water Center and maintain the water pumps and water lines located at each individual park.

Drinking water fountains are tested beyond provincial regulations to ensure visitors remain safe.

Park staff collect samples and send them for periodic testing to monitor things like chlorine and bacteria levels. If the results are not favorable, our parks public health team consults with the local public health unit about corrective measures or, sometimes, may even issue a boil water advisory.

Additional samples are sent, as necessary, to the laboratory until the water is restored to acceptable levels in accordance with drinking water legislation.

see technical staff

For more information on a day in the life of a water technician, check out this blog: What it’s like to be a water technician at Ontario Parks.

Beaches and swimming

Ontario parks are home to many lakes and beaches.

You may not have once thought about bacteria levels when taking a dip to cool off on a hot day, and that’s a good thing!

staff taking water samples

Our public health team works behind the scenes sampling recreational water for E. coli and blue-green algae so you can stay safe and enjoy recreational water activities.

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If recreational water samples contain high levels of bacteria or algae, a beach may be declared unsafe for swimming, or even closed, until levels return to normal.

Other things that can affect safe swimming conditions are severe weather conditions, runoff or spills, storms, and wavy conditions.

Don’t worry, part of the public health team’s job is to ensure clear communication when a beach reaches unsafe levels of bacteria for swimming.

Park staff will be posting signs on the beaches and alerts can be found on our beach results page.

How can I help keep the environment clean?

We are all part of the natural environment.

It provides us with many health benefits and, in turn, we must also help keep it healthy.

Here are some things you can do to help keep our natural spaces healthy:

Cleaning your dishes

Couple washing dishes at camping

Trailer unloading and filling stations

person filling trailer

  • Use the trailer sanitation stations to fill your clean water tank and dispose of dirty water.
  • Never connect directly to our water taps at campsites. In the event of a pressure drop in the system, backflow can occur and contaminate the entire water system!

Pick up your pet’s excrement

dog playing in the water

Always bend down and pick up.

Pet waste has high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus (and a host of other bacteria that can be harmful to wildlife) that can contaminate drinking water.

Don’t feed birds on the beach (or any wild animals)

boy walking on the beach with seagulls

Excess waste produced by animals and additional nutrients from uneaten food can contribute to blue-green algae blooms and the growth of aquatic weeds.

We can all do our part to help maintain a healthy environment so we can benefit from all that nature has to offer.

Learn more about Healthy Parks Healthy People initiatives at Ontario Parks!