NRDC Report Examines Beach Water Pollution

Bacterial contamination closed more beaches and prompted more health warnings for the third straight year, according to a report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The number of closing and health advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches topped 20,000 in 2005 -- the most since NRDC began tracking the problem 16 years ago -- confirming that our nation's beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution.

Aug 3rd, 2006

NRDC sues EPA for failing to update obsolete water quality standards.

WASHINGTON, DC, Aug. 3, 2006 -- Bacterial contamination closed more beaches and prompted more health warnings for the third straight year, according to a report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The number of closing and health advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches topped 20,000 in 2005 -- the most since NRDC began tracking the problem 16 years ago -- confirming that our nation's beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution.

This year's report, Testing the Waters, includes new information that provides a more alarming picture of the problem. For the first time, NRDC evaluated beachwater quality nationwide and found 200 beaches in two dozen states whose beachwater samples violated health standards at least 25 percent of the time.

In most cases, beachwater was contaminated with bacteria, and beachgoers were either swimming in it or banned from swimming because of the health risks. Overall, 8 percent of the beachwater samples taken nationwide violated health standards.

Current beachwater health standards, however, do not adequately protect the public and need to be updated, according to NRDC. Today the organization announced it is suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to modernize the standards as ordered by Congress six years ago.

"A day at the beach should not turn into a night in the bathroom, or worse, in the hospital," said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project. "There have been significant advances over the last two decades that we should be using to protect beachgoers, but the EPA is dragging its feet in implementing them."

In 2000, Congress passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act), which required the EPA to revise the current health standards by October 2005. The agency missed the deadline, and now says it will not be able to finish updating them until 2011.

The current beachwater quality standards are 20 years old and rely on obsolete monitoring methods and outdated science that leave beachgoers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses. Risks include gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal.

"The pollution that fouls our beaches comes from sewers, septic systems, and stormwater runoff from roads and buildings," said Stoner. "Poorly planned development on our coasts has paved over wetlands and other vegetation that soaked up and filtered polluted stormwater.

"These problems are preventable," she added. "It would be a lot safer to swim if municipalities used soil and vegetation to capture and filter stormwater at its source, and upgraded their aging sewer systems."

Beach Buddies and Beach Bums

NRDC's report found 8 percent of the beachwater samples taken nationwide in 2005 exceeded federal health standards. Mississippi (22 percent) and Louisiana (18 percent) had the highest percentage of exceedances (before Hurricane Katrina) while New Hampshire (1 percent) and Delaware (less than 1 percent) had the fewest.

The states with the biggest jump in closing and advisory days compared with 2004 were Pennsylvania (1,200 percent), Washington (200 percent), Louisiana (165 percent before Hurricane Katrina), Mississippi (141 percent before Katrina), Indiana (115 percent) and Hawaii (91 percent).

Nationally the number jumped 5 percent, from 19,950 days in 2004 to 20,397 days in 2005. Delaware's 21 monitored beaches, meanwhile, had no closing or advisory days last year; New Hampshire's 16 monitored beaches only had one closing/advisory day.

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