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Better Beach Health Spotlighted in New U.S. Data

Release Date: 07/27/2005
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Contact: Dale Kemery, 202-564-4355 /

(Washington, D.C. - July 27, 2005) U.S. beaches have become more-enjoyable places for Americans to play, thanks to improved water monitoring and state and local actions to address sources of pollution.

EPA's most recent data on beach closings and advisories show that only four percent of beach days were lost in 2004 due to advisories or closures triggered by monitoring for bacteria. Most of the closures were relatively short in duration. More than 2,700 closings were two days or less, and only 59 closings lasted more than 30 days.

The number of beaches monitored has more than tripled -- 3,574 in 2004, compared with 1,021 in 1997, the first year EPA began collecting beach-monitoring program data. Of the beaches reported to EPA in 2004, 942, or 26 percent, had at least one advisory or closing during the 2004 season.

The differences are attributable both to greater state participation in the program and also to improved measurement and monitoring made possible by grant money from EPA. For the past five years, EPA has provided nearly $42 million in grants to 35 coastal and Great Lakes states and territories. The grants help improve water monitoring and fund public-information programs that alert beach-goers about the health of their beaches.

"The small percentage of beach days lost in 2004 is encouraging," said Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin H. Grumbles. "Reducing exposure to disease-causing bacteria in beach water will help protect all Americans, especially children, who are more susceptible to pathogens. Finding the sources of pollution will help keep beach-goers safe at their favorite recreational spots. Federal dollars have gone a long way to help states identify problems."

States like Rhode Island, Maryland and Ohio have used EPA funds to find the sources of bacteria and develop comprehensive beach monitoring and public notification programs.

EPA grant money enabled North Beach, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay, to monitor more frequently in 2003. The increased monitoring revealed high fecal counts during the bathing season from a stormwater system sharing a common conduit with an aging, sanitary sewer system. Town officials moved the stormwater outfall. As a result, 2004 beach season sampling revealed significantly better water quality in the beach area. The beach remained open all season with no advisories or closures.

Warren Town Beach, Rhode Island, found that sewage from a broken sewer line was entering a brick stormwater basin and being discharged into the bathing area. The town repaired the sewer line, and routine sampling during the 2004 bathing season showed bacteria levels well below the action level.

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio used EPA grant money to monitor streams and shoreline storm sewer outflows for E. coli at 15 beaches. The result? The discovery of 16 locations where bacteria levels were elevated. The data will help local municipalities investigate potential sources of contamination.

The beach-monitoring program is required under the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act. Coastal and Great Lakes states and territories must report to EPA on beach monitoring and notification data for their coastal recreation waters.

On Nov. 8, 2004, EPA took another important step under the BEACH Act by requiring more protective standards to reduce beach-goers' exposure to harmful bacteria. When bacteria reach unhealthy levels, states or local agencies either issue a beach advisory, warning of possible swimming risks, or close a beach to the public.

EPA is working to make information about beach water quality available faster and easier. New data-collection techniques among state and local partners will make the 2005 swimming season data more readily available to the public. EPA consults regularly with its state counterparts and provides technical assistance to make these improvements.

Summary information for 2004 is available at: Information about specific beaches is available at: . General information about EPA's beaches program, including a listing of all 35 coastal and Great lakes states and territories is available at: