A pro-establishment political party is calling for the government to update the water quality standard for bathing beaches, after a poll they conducted found some swimmers suffered from illness following contact with the water.
The Democratic Alliance for Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong criticised the government on Monday for being slow to amend current standards for beach water quality in the city, which uses a “backward” criteria from the 1980s.
The DAB claimed that although water quality had already been reviewed by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) in 2009, the government had not since taken any policy action to update the Water Quality Objective (WQO).
In a survey conducted by the party earlier this month, over a fifth of the 791 citizens polled had experienced discomfort or illness after swimming in public swimming pools, and around 13 per cent felt sick after swimming in beaches. DAB lawmaker Christopher Chung Shu-kun said the ailments could range from skin rashes to minor flu symptoms.
Citizens above 11 years of age were polled by phone over a one-week period starting July 30.
The party said its main area of concern is the levels of E. coli in freshwater beaches. Its presence in water is a strong indication of recent sewage or animal waste contamination, as it is present in large numbers inside the gastrointestinal tracts and excreta of all warm-blooded animals.
The current standard for E. coli levels in Hong Kong beach waters is 180 colonies per 100ml of water. The standard set by the United States Environmental Protection Agency is 126 colonies per 100ml.
A spokesperson at the Leisure and Cultural Services Department said they were concerned about beach water quality, and have tested for bacteria levels in seawater every week during the summer season to determine whether its 'good', 'average', 'bad' or 'extremely bad'."
Chung also reiterated his stance on the man-made Lung Mei Beach in Tai Po, and said the 200-metre-beach is a good compromise on use of 6 kilometres of coast, near an ecologically rich mangrove swamp and the Plover Cove Reservoir.
“As the city is faced with an ageing population, free swimming facilities are urgently needed for citizens in the Western part of New Territories, particularly for many elderly people who enjoy swimming as a leisurely sport,” he said.
He proposed building more swimming facilities on Hong Kong Island and parts of the New Territories, and offering discount packages for public swimming pools in consideration of low-income families.