Water Sanitation Health

Guidelines for safe recreational water environments
Volume 1 : Coastal and fresh waters

Executive summary

WHO, 2003
ISBN 92 4 154580 1
Price: Sw.Fr. 70
In developing countries: Sw.Fr. 49
Order no. 1150525
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This volume of the Guidelines for Safe Recreational Water Environments describes the present state of knowledge regarding the impact of recreational use of coastal and freshwater environments upon the health of users — specifically, leading to drowning and injury, exposure to cold, heat and sunlight, water quality (especially exposure to water contaminated by sewage, but also exposure to pathogenic microorganisms indigenous to recreational water), contamination of beach sand, exposure to algae and their products, exposure to chemical and physical agents, and dangerous aquatic organisms. As well, control and monitoring of the hazards associated with these environments are discussed.

The primary aim of the Guidelines is the protection of public health. The purpose of the Guidelines is not to deter the use of recreational water environments but instead to ensure that they are operated as safely as possible in order that the largest possible population gets the maximum possible benefit. The adverse impacts of recreational use of coastal and freshwater environments upon the health of users must be weighed against the enormous benefits to health and well-being — rest, relaxation and exercise — associated with the use of these environments.

The Guidelines are intended to be used as the basis for the development of international and national approaches (including standards and regulations) to controlling the health risks from hazards that may be encountered in recreational water environments, as well as providing a framework for local decision-making. The Guidelines may also be used as reference material for industries and operators preparing development projects in recreational water areas, as a checklist for understanding and assessing potential health impacts of recreational projects, and in the conduct of environmental impact and environmental health impact assessments in particular.

The information provided is generally applicable to any coastal or freshwater area where recreational water use occurs. The preferred approaches adopted by national or local authorities towards implementation of the Guidelines, including guideline values, may vary depending on social, cultural, environmental and economic characteristics of the site, as well as knowledge of routes of exposure, the nature and severity of hazards, and the effectiveness of control measures.

A guideline can be:

  • a level of management;
  • a concentration of a constituent that does not represent a significant risk to the health of members of significant user groups;
  • a condition under which such exposures are unlikely to occur; or
  • a combination of the last two.

When a guideline is not achieved, this should be a signal to investigate the cause of the failure and identify the likelihood of future failure, to liaise with the authority responsible for public health to determine whether immediate action should be taken to reduce exposure to the hazard, and to determine whether measures should be put in place to prevent or reduce exposure under similar conditions in the future.