Testing The Waters – NRDC

July 2, 2011 by  
Filed under Water Quality

Click the following to find your local beach:   NRDC Ratings for a Selection of U. S. Popular Beaches.

Testing the Waters 2011

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NRDC’s annual survey of water quality and public notification at U.S. beaches finds that the number of beach closings and advisories in 2010 reached 24,091 — the second-highest level since NRDC began tracking these events 21 years ago, confirming that our nation’s beaches continue to suffer from bacterial pollution that puts swimmers at risk.

Testing the Waters focuses primarily on bacteria-related beach water quality concerns. This year and last year, the report also highlighted closures, advisories, and notices issued at beaches impacted by last summer’s BP oil disaster. From the beginning of the spill until June 15, 2011 there have been a total of 9,474 days of oil-related beach notices, advisories and closures at Gulf Coast beaches due to the spill.

Nearly three-quarters of the 2010 beach closings and advisories were issued because water quality monitoring revealed bacteria levels exceeding health and safety standards. Across the country, aging and poorly designed sewage treatment systems and contaminated stormwater are often to blame for beachwater pollution.

Promising developments could improve protection of public health at U.S. beaches. Most importantly, the Environmental Protection Agency has embarked upon a major overhaul of its Clean Water Act regulations that apply to urban and suburban runoff pollution. These changes have the potential to broadly ensure that impervious areas that generate runoff pollution will be designed in a way to retain a significant amount of stormwater on site.

In addition, as a result of legal pressure from NRDC, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to update its decades-old beachwater quality standards by 2012. The legal settlement requires EPA to:

  • Conduct new health studies and swimmer surveys.
  • Approve a water-testing method that will produce same-day results.
  • Protect beachgoers from a broader range of waterborne illnesses.

The illnesses associated with polluted beachwater include conditions such as skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis and hepatitis. By contrast, current standards focus on gastrointestinal illnesses such as the stomach flu. Current water quality tests also take 24 hours or more to produce results, so beaches are not closed or placed under advisory until after beachgoers have spent a day swimming in water that did not meet water quality standards. The EPA’s changes represent much-needed progress toward promoting safer and healthier beaches along U.S. coastlines.

Keeping Water Safe by Cleaning Up Pollution

Despite these steps forward, the agreement doesn’t actually require local beach officials to use the rapid-testing methods developed by EPA. That’s one big reason that NRDC has supported the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act when it has been considered previously in Congress. This bill would push states to begin using rapid-water tests within one year of EPA validation. The measure would also authorize funding for studies that identify the sources of beachwater pollution, which is the first step towards preventing this pollution from reaching the beach. In 2010, the source of contaminated beachwater was reported as unknown more than half the time.

EPA’s reform of its regulations will be a major opportunity to advance communities’ use of green infrastructure. In addition, leaders in Congress have introduced bills to promote green infrastructure, require stormwater retention by highway development projects, and fund community infrastructure improvements.

People can also help prevent beach pollution by taking simple steps, such as picking up pet waste, maintaining septic systems, putting swim diapers with plastic covers on babies, and keeping trash off the beach.

Beach Ratings: How Clean Is Your Beach?

In 2011, NRDC rated 200 popular beaches based on the cleanliness of the water and their monitoring and public notification practices. How clean is your beach? Check the ratings here.

Dirty Beaches in NYC: Which Ones Need a Bath?

June 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Water Quality

The Natural Resources Defense Council released its annual beach water quality report yesterday and found water at a total of 134 beaches in the five boroughs and its surrounding areas had bacteria levels that exceeded state health standards.

Nationally, the report found the number of beach closings and advisories was at the second-highest level in the 18 years that the report has been issued.

According to the study, one Brooklyn swimming hole—Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach in Southern Brooklyn— was closed at different points due to bacteria levels. Five other sites in Brooklyn — including three Coney Island beaches, Kingsborough Community College Beach and Manhattan Beach– had bacteria levels that were unsafe for swimming on various days last year when samples were taken.

Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach’s water was higher than the acceptable standards for swimming 14 percent of the time. It was closed a total of 14 days.

Both Coney Island’s Brighton 15th-16th and West 16th-27th beaches had pollution levels higher than the state standard nine percent of the time.

The study also found levels that were unacceptable for swimming by New York State health standards at nine sites in the Bronx, 31 in Nassau County, 67 in Suffolk County, 17 in Westchester County and two in Staten Island.

“America’s beaches have long suffered from pollution,” said Jon Devine, a senior attorney for the defense council. “The difference is now we know what to do about it. By making our communities literally greener on land, we can make the water at the beach cleaner. In the years to come, there’s no reason we can’t reverse this dirty legacy.”

The council, which is a non-profit environmental safeguard group that would formed in 1970, found that aging sewage treatment systems and contaminated storm water were the primary reasons for polluted beach water. Pollutants included litter, floating debris and “toilet-generated waste,” according to the defense council.

In Queens, Douglas Manor Beach, a private swimming spot, exceeded the state’s acceptable standard 25 percent of the time and was closed 54 times during the course of the study and Whitestone Beach exceeded the limit 17 percent of the time and was closed 21 times.

According to the study, Nassau County’s most polluted beaches were Crescent Beach, where samples were higher 27 percent of the time, and Seacliff Beach, which exceeded the limit 16 percent of the time.

But none of these beaches were listed in the study among the state’s most polluted.

“Generally, private beaches are more susceptible to closure due to higher bacteria levels, especially during times when there is rainfall due to their location. City beaches are classified as closed or under advisory when confirmed samples show that bathing beach water quality exceeds the water quality standard for marine water beaches,” said a spokesperson from the city’s Health Department.

“During the 2010 beach season, four public beaches – Coney Island, Orchard Beach, Wolfe’s Pond and Manhattan Beach- had exceedances when the weekly scheduled samples were collected, but re-sample results showed no exceedances. Therefore, the beaches were not closed.”

Related Topics: Beaches, Breezy Point, Brooklyn, Douglas Manor Beach, Douglaston, Environment, Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach, Nassau County, National Resources Defense Council, and coney island