Reports of Beach Pollution On The
By Cat Lazaroff
WASHINGTON, DC, July 25, 2002 (ENS) - Beach closures
and water quality advisories increased by 19 percent in
2001 over the previous year, finds an annual beach report
from the Natural Resources Defense Council. The conservation
group says some city and regional authorities are trying
to stem the flow of pollution to beaches, but more needs
to be done locally and nationally to address the pollution
The annual trend of increasing closures and advisories is
partly due to the fact that more municipalities are monitoring
their beaches on a regular basis, says the National Resources
Defense Council (NRDC) in its 12th annual report. Increased
monitoring offers a more comprehensive picture of the health
of the nation's beaches, highlighting successes and ongoing
"Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation
Beaches" reports there were at least 13,410 closures and
advisories at ocean and freshwater beaches in 2001, compared
to at least 11,270 in 2000.
Pollution from sewage spills and urban runoff continues
to contaminate many beaches with disease causing bacteria
and other pathogens, the report finds. High bacteria levels,
indicating the presence of human or animal waste, prompted
87 percent of the closures and advisories in 2001.
Many local authorities admit that they do not know the
sources of pollution causing or contributing to more than
half of the closures and advisories issued, the report
"The reporting agencies don't know the source of pollution
because, in many cases, no one is systematically tracking
it down and attempting to do anything about it," said
Sarah Chasis, an NRDC senior attorney and director of
the organization's water and coastal program. "Identifying
the source of the problem is a critical step to improving
beach water quality. It's important not only to regularly
monitor beaches and notify the public of contamination,
but also to identify and control the pollution sources."
Since 1990, when the NRDC issued its first beach report,
some coastal states have improved their monitoring, testing
and notification practices. Twelve states have initiated
or expanded monitoring programs, including Alabama, California,
Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi,
North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas.
In addition, California, Massachusetts and Florida have
passed beach bills that mandate more regular beach monitoring
and public notification.
However, there is still no uniform and regular monitoring
across the nation, leaving some beachgoers unaware about
water quality at their favorite beaches. Oregon, for example,
does not regularly monitor beach water for swimmer safety.
Private groups monitor a few beaches in Louisiana, but
there is no statewide monitoring program. Washington state
also has no formal statewide monitoring program and leaves
it to individual communities to voluntarily monitor their
The standards authorities use for testing water quality,
particularly for detecting bacteria and other pathogens,
also vary across the country. Of 138 agencies responsible
for at least one marine or estuarine beach, only 38 agencies
in seven states and Guam have adopted the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency's (EPA) recommended bacteria standards.
Of 124 agencies responsible for at least one freshwater
beach, 29 agencies in 11 states and Guam have adopted the
EPA's recommended freshwater standards.
States and municipalities are also inconsistent regarding
the publishing of closings and advisories, and in notifying
the public when there is a pollution problem. For example,
some states that regularly tests water quality at their
beaches may not close a beach when a health standard is
A national law passed in 2000, the BEACH Act, encourages
states to establish monitoring programs for beachwater
quality and promptly warn the public if harmful bacteria
levels exceed health standards. Under the law, states
have to meet EPA water quality standards to receive federal
funding for their beach monitoring and public notification
The law also requires all coastal states to adopt, by
2004, EPA's health standards for beach water quality or
standards that are equally protective of public health.
Although the EPA has not issued final guidelines for implementing
the BEACH Act, the NRDC says it is concerned that the
monitoring provisions and recommended standards will not
be strong enough.
Where local authorities reported the cause of closures
and advisories, the most frequent contaminant was stormwater
runoff, which caused more than 3,715 closures or advisories
last year. In response to an NRDC consent decree, the
EPA is now required to set minimum technology standards
for controlling stormwater runoff from construction and
But last month, the federal Office of Management and Budget
(OMB) gutted the EPA's proposed standards, charging that
they would prove too expensive.
"After OMB's handiwork, EPA's proposal now violates
the law and would allow stormwater to further degrade
our rivers, lakes and coastal waters," says Nancy Stoner,
director of the NRDC's Clean Water Project. "Stormwater
is the largest identified source of coastal water pollution
in the country."
Another leading cause of beach water closures is bacteria
laden raw sewage discharges from combined and sanitary
sewers. For more than a year, the EPA has delayed issuing
proposed regulations that would minimize raw sewage discharges
and notify the public not to swim in sewage contaminated
To help beachgoers know where the cleanest, safest beaches
can be found, the NRDC awards an annual Beach Buddy award.
This year, the group strengthened its criteria for the
The award still requires communities to monitor beach
water regularly, close beaches or notify the public when
standards are exceeded, and use the EPA's health standards.
Now the NRDC is also recognizing authorities that have
taken steps to reduce beach pollution over the previous
year, by improving sewage or stormwater treatment, or
undertaking reforms that will result in major beach water
improvements in the near future.
This year, the NRDC's Beach Buddies include: Branford,
Connecticut; Key West, Florida; Salem, Massachusetts;
and the Los Angeles County and San Diego County regional
water quality boards.
"We felt it was time to take the Beach Buddy award a step
further by singling out those authorities that are taking
steps to pinpoint the source of pollution and reduce it,"
said report author Mark Dorfman. "It's by no means a comprehensive
list and we expect that there are other good examples out
NRDC also released its list of Beach Bums - those communities
that do not monitor beach water for swimmer safety, do
not regularly notify the public if health standards are
exceeded, do not use EPA's recommended health standards,
and have known pollution sources affecting their beaches.
The list includes two states - Louisiana and Oregon -
that have no regular monitoring or public notification
A list of 70 individual community "Beach Bums," along
with the complete annual report, are available on NRDC's
Web site at: http:www.nrdc.org