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More than Half of the U.S. is Directly Affected by Ocean Protection

Release Date: 6/12/2003
Contact Information: Bonnie Smith, 215-814-5543

Bonnie Smith, 215-814-5543

PHILADELPHIA – In the mid-Atlantic region, June is the beginning of the summer beach season. For EPA, the protection of America's water is a year-round effort.

“Because coastal waters are priceless resources, we work closely with our state and local partners to see where there are real problems in real places and fix them,” said Donald S. Welsh, EPA’s mid-Atlantic regional administrator.

Our coastal waters provide recreation and enjoyment for millions of people. More than half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of a coastline. Additionally, an estimated 180 million Americans visit U.S. coastal areas each year, spending more than $600 billion.

One out of every six U.S. jobs are marine-related, generating $54 billion in goods and services annually. In addition, coastal waters provide some of the most diverse and biologically productive habitats on the planet, supporting 66 percent of all U.S. commercial and recreational fishing and 45 percent of all protected species.

In the past 30 years, EPA has succeeded in fighting back some of the most blatant threats to America's waters – the dumping of medical waste, municipal and industrial discharges, and discharges from vessels. EPA works in partnership with state and local governments and organizations.

EPA monitors the health of coastal waters. Teams of regional scientists sample the water from ships that sail along the coast. Surveillance planes monitor the coastal waters from overhead, looking for oil slicks and debris and counting wildlife such as whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.

Despite these gains, coastal degradation remains a challenge. Invasive species, harmful algal blooms, disease, and habitat loss continue to pose threats to the health of ocean and coastal resources. While trash, cans, bottles, and cigarette butts are obvious types of pollution, the greatest risks come from bacteria, viruses and other disease causing microorganisms.

What happens in a community miles away from the coast can effect water quality at the beach. Rainwater picks up contaminants from lawns, farms, streets, and construction sites, creating polluted run-off. Sewage overflows, malfunctioning sewage treatment plants and failing septic systems also present significant problems.

In October 2000, Congress passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) to improve water monitoring and public notification when water quality problems arise. Under this law, EPA is authorized to award grants. EPA’s mid-Atlantic Region III has awarded over $1 million in Beach Act funds to Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia, and plans to award another $1 million this year. Grants information is available at:

The best source of information on the quality of the water at your favorite beach is your local public health or environmental office. These state and local agencies can provide the most current available information. EPA’s website at contains more information, including a list of State and local agencies that monitor beaches and report data to EPA.

In celebration of the 30th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act and the Year of Clean Water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated June 2003 as Coastal and Oceans Month.

You can access EPA’s regional website at Or visit our exhibit at the Public Information Center of EPA’s Philadelphia Regional Office,1650 Arch Street.

Simple voluntary efforts that everyone can do to make a difference in protecting our beach waters include picking up trash and pet waste; properly recycling used motor oil; disposing of household chemicals properly; and fixing oil leaks in vehicles, minimizing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and conserving.