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Misc. News : C.onsumer A.ffair Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Nation's beaches under scrutiny as EPA is sued over pollution
By Kathy Jones
Aug 4, 2006, 12:16

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4 Aug, ( - The number of beach closures due to bacterial contamination increased for the third year running, according to a new report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The number of health warnings at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches jumped to 20,000 in 2005. This is the highest number since records began 16 years ago.

The report said that water pollution continued to plague the beaches and health advisory days at the beaches posted a new high.

For the first time, the 2005 report evaluated the quality of beach water and found that 200 beaches in two-dozen states had beach water that violated health standards at least 25 percent of the time. Further people were asked not to swim because of the health risks posed by bacterial contamination.

"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."

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act), which was passed in 2000, required the Environmental Protection Agency to revise the current health standards by October 2005. These standards are two decades old and use outdated monitoring methods as well as old scientific principles.

Hence many beachgoers are exposed to risk of waterborne diseases because of the dodgy standards. Risks include gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments and other serious health problems. Needless to say the very young and the very old are particularly vulnerable from these diseases.

"The pollution that fouls our beaches comes from sewers, septic systems, and storm water 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 storm water."

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

And because these problems can be sorted out by the introduction of simple measures, Natural Resources Defense Council decided to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to protect the public against the "substantial adverse health effects" from contact with contaminated beach-water.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday. It asks the court to direct the EPA to complete the water-quality studies and publish revised safety rules. The pollution in the beaches is a result of multiple sources including animal waste, factories, septic tanks, sewage, pesticides and oil and metals deposited on city streets.

EPA spokesman Dale Kemery did not comment on the lawsuit, but said that "the state of the nation's beach health remains high, even as the number of beaches monitored increased by 11 percent in 2005." He added that EPA "has made significant progress in carrying out its responsibilities under the 2000 law."

But the report said otherwise. It found that 8 percent of the beach water samples taken nationwide in 2005 exceeded federal health standards. The worst offenders were Mississippi and Louisiana with New Hampshire and Delaware recording the fewest exceedances.

Pennsylvania registered the biggest jump in closing and advisory days compared with 2004 rates at 1,200 percent followed by Washington (200 percent), Louisiana (165 percent before Hurricane Katrina), Mississippi (141 percent before Katrina), Indiana (115 percent) and Hawaii (91 percent)

On a national basis, the number jumped 5 percent, from 19,950 days in 2004 to 20,397 days in 2005.

Florida’s beaches were found to be the cleanest based on national standards, but closures and health advisories due to pollution increased slightly last year partly due to hurricanes and red tide. The report said only 4 percent of Florida’s beach samples exceeded the national bacteria standard in 2005.

The NRDC has some guidelines on how to avoid polluted beaches
* If possible, choose beaches that are next to open waters or away from urban areas. They typically pose less of a health risk than beaches in developed areas or in enclosed bays and harbors with little water circulation.

* Look for pipes along the beach that drain stormwater runoff from the streets, and don't swim near them.

* Avoid swimming in beach water that is cloudy or smells bad.

* Keep your head out of the water.

* Avoid swimming for at least 24 hours after heavy rains (which can wash pollution into the water).

* Contact local health officials if you suspect beach water contamination so that others can be protected from exposure.

© 2004-2005 by unless otherwise specified

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