Water Sanitation Health

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

Executive summary

Microbial aspects of beach sand quality

Bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses have all been isolated from beach sand. A number of them are potential pathogens. Factors promoting the survival and dispersion of pathogens include the nature of the beach, tidal phenomena, the presence of sewage outlets, the season, the presence of animals and the number of swimmers. Transmission may occur through direct person-to-person contact or by other means, although no route of transmission has been positively demonstrated.

Concern has been expressed that beach sand or similar materials may act as reservoirs or vectors of infection. However, the capacity of microorganisms that have been isolated from beach sand to infect bathers remains undemonstrated, and the real extent of their threat to public health is unknown. There is therefore no evidence to support establishment of a guideline value for index organisms or pathogenic microorganisms on beach sand.

The principal microbial risk to human health encountered upon beaches and similar areas is that arising from contact with animal excreta, particularly from dogs. Regulations that restrict access seasonally on frequently used beaches or place an obligation upon the owner to remove animal excreta, increased public awareness and beach cleaning are preventive management actions.