Don't Go Near the Water, Environmental Group Says


With all the hype about sharks in the water this summer one would think death by man-eating fish would be the only thing to worry about when venturing near the ocean. Well, think again. In its 11th annual report on beach closings, the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that closings in 2000 due to disease-causing pollution had nearly doubled from the 1999 figure of 6,160 to 11,270.

Although runoff from heavier rainfalls in some parts of the country contributed to some increase in closing advisories, better and more frequent state testing standards for bacteria and pathogens resulted in most of the beach shutdowns on the East, West and Gulf coasts and along the shores of the Great Lakes.

Increased monitoring by the states was the good news for 2000, but the number of increased reports of pollution from "unknown sources" was one of the more disturbing trends identified in the NRDC study.

"We're seeing a much more realistic picture of the beach water pollution problem now that more states are monitoring and reporting. But we haven't turned the corner on identifying the sources of pollution and preventing them in the first place," said Sarah Chasis, director of the NRDC's water and coastal program.

The most frequent cause of closings last year continued to be storm runoff carrying chemicals and other pollutants. But breaks in sewage pipelines or sewage treatment plant failures forced more than 2200 closings or "swim-at-your-own risk" advisories.

Although the number of states now conducting monitoring of lake, river and ocean beaches has increased since the NRDC's first annual report was issued in 1989, a few still have no regular monitoring or public advisory program on water pollution. The worst offenders, which the NRDC labeled "Beach Bums," were Louisiana and Oregon. Eleven states - Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas - have expanded and strengthened their monitoring programs. However, most states are still inconsistent in the way they monitor and report water pollution problems, despite a national law encouraging adoption of tougher federal standards under the Clean Water Act.

"NRDC's beach report has pressured states and localities to adopt better monitoring and notification practices and adopt the EPA testing standards. But more still needs to be done. EPA and the states need to effectively implement the new national Beach Act, and Congress needs to fully fund it," said Mark Dorfman, who wrote the NRDC report.

For more information on beach pollution, see NRDC's report, "Testing the Waters: A Guide to Beach Water Quality at Vacation Beaches."


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