Bulgaria issues repeated assurances about cleanliness of sea water

The weeks of Bulgaria’s peak holiday season, accompanied by a long spell of scorching heat, have seen Bulgaria’s authorities issuing repeated assurances about the cleanliness of the water at the beaches on the country’s Black Sea coast – in moves against rumours and reports of supposed high pollution levels.

There is no official data as yet of tourist numbers at Bulgaria’s coast at the height of summer 2023, only anecdotal observations and some media reports claiming reduced numbers, with people discouraged by the rumours.

The trouble began after the destruction of Ukraine’s Nova Kakhovka dam in early June, which was followed by claims that this would result in bathing in Bulgaria’s Black Sea waters being hazardous.

Bulgaria’s authorities dismissed these claims as baseless disinformation aimed at damaging the tourism industry of Bulgaria, last year deemed by Russia a “hostile country”.

In response to the claims about the consequences for Bulgaria of the Nova Kakhovka dam destruction – which Ukraine and the West blame in Russia, which had the means, access and motive to destroy the dam – Bulgaria’s Environment Ministry published daily updates on the results of official tests showing Bulgaria’s water not to have been polluted by the dam destruction.

Matters were complicated further when the Bulgarian Association of Active Consumers released data which it claimed showed unacceptable levels of pollution on the country’s southern Black Sea coast.

The Health Ministry responded with a lengthy denunciation of the allegations by the consumer association, saying – among several other things – that the methodology of the testing was not known and the claims by the association could not be regarded as reliable.

On August 28, new samples of sea water were being taken, in a joint exercise by the association and the Health Ministry. The results of the respective sets of tests by the two bodies were expected to be announced in the middle of the week, Bulgarian National Radio said.

This past weekend, Chief State Health Inspector Dr Angel Kunchev told Nova Televizia that about 16 times per season, samples were taken from 116 places along the country’s Black Sea coast “in order to be able to classify a beach as excellent, satisfactory or unsatisfactory”.

Kunchev said that there were no risks to beachgoers.

“On August 21-23, the last samples were taken from all beaches in the Bourgas region. Only on the Popskiya Beach and on the north beach of Kiten, the so-called Liman, there is some movement, but the indicators are very far from those reported by the Active Consumers. This does not make them unfit for bathing,” he said.

‘The public may calmly use all the beaches. If there are deviations, we react immediately. We have done so over the years, we have prohibited bathing on certain beaches, but only when there is reliable data about it,” Kunchev said.

Environment Minister Julian Popov, speaking to bTV on August 26, said that the overall finding was that the Bulgarian Black Sea was clean.

Popov said that where cases of uncontrolled discharge of wastewater into the sea were found, the municipality or hotel concerned were fined, sums from 2000 to 10 000 leva. He said that he work for higher and more appropriate penalties.

In the past two months, Popov toured Bulgaria’s coastline from north to south, visiting every beach. On social networks, he described how he had swum in Bulgaria’s Black Sea, and had thoroughly enjoyed doing so.

There are just a couple of weeks left to the height of Bulgaria’s Black Sea summer tourism season, with the country’s schools set to re-open, as is traditional, on September 15.

In 2022, Bulgaria recorded its highest number of coastal bathing waters meeting the “excellent quality” standards, the latest European Environment Agency (EEA) annual report on the quality of bathing waters in the EU, released on June 10, showed.

(Photo, from Kamchia Beach near Varna, in August 2023: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)

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