From Iceland — Literal Shit: You’re Soaking In It

Literal Shit: You’re Soaking In It

Published September 8, 2017

Literal Shit: You’re Soaking In It
Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
José Ángel Hernández

One of the star attractions of the Icelandic countryside is bathing in a natural hot spring or naturally formed pool. It’s a subject we’ve covered in numerous travel articles as something totally worthwhile to do. Recent news has made us rethink that, or at least, made us cautious about soaking in warm water outdoors for a while to come.

Fréttablaðið has reported that levels of faecal bacteria in some natural pools in the Westfjords have exceeded safe levels, in some cases by as much as 200 times. Samples taken from some of these pools showed 200,000 bacteria per decilitre, while the safe level is closer to 500. As a point of comparison, the raw sewage that accidentally poured into Reykjavík harbour earlier this summer showed levels of faecal bacteria closer to 1,000 per decilitre.

Worst of all, Jón Reynir Sigurvinsson, director of the Westfjords Health Authority, told reporters that they don’t actually have the authority to do anything about it.

How did it get this bad? You probably know the answer already: a dramatic increase in visitors to these pools.

It should be noted that at many natural pools, such as in Reykjanes for example, there are signs posted, warning people that the water is not cleaned by anyone, and to bathe at one’s own risk. That risk includes the possibility of skin and mucous membrane infections, and if you swallow any water, you’re likely to get pretty sick.

So if you do happen upon a natural pool or hot spring, consider before you get in. It could be risky. Then again, you might also get bragging rights from being brave enough to bathe in the face of danger.

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