Being at the beach is a big part of summer. It’s fun, but it’s not always safe.

Water contaminated with E.coli can cause skin, ear, nose, throat and eye infections as well as stomach troubles. Tomorrow, York Region starts its beach water sampling program.

“We test the water for E.coli, which is a bacterium that indicates a possible sewage contamination,” says York Region Community and Health Services safe water manager Bernard Mayer. He says E.coli can be from bird or pet feces. “These are bacteria that increase the possible risk of someone becoming sick in the water.”

Samples are collected from 14 beaches in York, and every summer some of them have advisories posted notifying beachgoers of the risk. Beach closures, which happen when there is an immediate risk to public health like a toxic spill or sewage leak, are rare.

Georgina resident Dylan Escourse says he sees advisories posted a few times a year.

“For sure I’ve seen it posted for a whole week at a time,” he says.

If the E.coli count rises to or beyond provincial guidelines of 100 per 100-mililitres of water, a warning is posted on the beach.

In York last year, seven beaches were posted due to high bacterial levels for 74 days. De La Salle Park beach in Georgina was posted 22 days in 2012. Holmes Point Park, east of De La Salle, was posted for 17 days.

The Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) will start its beach testing program this month as well. In Simcoe and Muskoka, 16 beaches were posted with advisories 22 times in 2012, and no beach was posted more than twice, says SMDHU media coordinator Matt Drennan-Sace.

Drennan-Scace says results are received by the health unit the day after sampling, are assessed and then posted was warranted. Signs are posted at the beach. A list is kept updated online on each health unit’s website.

 “We come to the beach a lot as a family, and we do look at the postings,” says Georgina resident Sarah Joseph. “If it is posted, then we do avoid the water but we would play around the beach.”

Water quality can change daily, or even within an hour, depending on things like weather, run-off, birds, and water currents. Shallow water can be more dangerous as E.coli counts can be higher there.