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Wave of EPA Efforts to Protect Coastal Waters and New York/New Jersey Harbor Results in Clean Waters and Beaches

Release Date: 06/04/2008
Contact Information: Contact: Elias Rodriguez, (212) 637-3664,

(New York, N.Y.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today unveiled an updated and expanded beach and harbor protection program composed of an array of surveillance, sampling and funding activities to safeguard beaches and bays in New York and New Jersey and the health of the people who enjoy them. Using its helicopter, ships and cutting-edge technologies, EPA’s initiatives and scientific assessments will go farther in 2008 than ever before. Of particular importance are the results of a study of a new rapid method for testing beach water and improvements to a federal, state and local plan to spot and collect floating debris before it can wash up on area beaches.

“New Jersey and New York beaches are among the best and highest quality beaches in the world, and among the most extensively monitored,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “EPA’s investments and year-round work with our federal, state and local partners has paid off, so that people who go to the beach can relax and enjoy all the beauty that New Jersey and New York’s coastlines have to offer.”

Working together with other federal, and state and local agencies, EPA’s program to monitor for floating debris has been expanded to cover a wider area and will now operate seven days a week. The results from EPA’s 2007 assessment of a new rapid method of testing beach water for bacteria that cause gastrointestinal illness show promise as a beach monitoring tool. Conventional methods require 24 hours for results, while the new methods can provide results in as little as three hours after sample collection. EPA will continue its assessment of this rapid test technology this summer to further refine this new method and evaluate results under various environmental conditions.

EPA’s comprehensive science-based beach and coastal water program has many additional components, including shellfish bed water quality monitoring, grants to states to help with their beach monitoring and public notification programs and the development of pollution discharge budgets, called total maximum daily loads, for the New York/New Jersey Harbor and the New York Bight. This summer, EPA will use its boats to collect water samples and further assess the influence of nutrients on dissolved oxygen levels. As it does every summer, EPA scientists will fly over the New York/New Jersey Harbor in EPA’s helicopter searching for floating debris, and it will again collect water samples near shellfish beds.

Highlights of EPA’s Coastal Water and Beach Program:

Floatables Surveillance Overflights:
EPA and its federal, state and local partners have revised and enhanced the floatables action plan, developed to spot and collect floating debris. Throughout the summer, the EPA helicopter Coastal Crusader will continue to fly over the New Jersey/New York Harbor Complex six days a week to identify slicks of floating debris and to coordinate cleanups with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection and the Passaic Valley Sewage Commission in an effort to prevent wash-ups on the beaches of New York and New Jersey. EPA also reports any observed oil slicks to the U.S. Coast Guard for cleanup. The addition of the PVSC skimmer vessel to this effort will help respond to slicks in the Newark Bay. Additionally, NJDEP will fly on Sundays into the Harbor to ensure coverage seven days a week.

Rapid Test Method Research:
EPA has finished phase one of its study of a new rapid test method to test beach water for harmful bacteria. In this phase, EPA used water samples taken at 20 Ocean and Monmouth County bathing beaches. The new three-hour test, called Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) was used side-by-side with the conventional 24 hour method. The study was a cooperative effort between EPA, NJDEP and Monmouth and Ocean County Health Departments. The results from this initial study are very encouraging and showed that the results of the rapid test very in most cases very similar to the results from the longer conventional test. A follow-up study is planned this year to focus on variability related to tides and rainfall on bacteria levels.

Shellfish Bed Monitoring Program:
The EPA helicopter will be used to collect water quality samples for both the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) to help them monitor the health of their shellfish beds. EPA scientists will collect water samples along the New Jersey coast and in Raritan Bay; Sandy Hook Bay; Barnegat Bay; Great Bay; Delaware Bay; and along the Long Island Coast from Rockaway to Shinnecock.

Dissolved Oxygen Monitoring:
New Jersey coastal waters are listed as impaired due to low dissolved oxygen concentrations. To continue to monitor for trends, EPA will use its helicopter to take samples at 20 stations located one to three miles off the coast of New Jersey and test for dissolved oxygen and temperature. These samples will be taken four times in late summer when dissolved oxygen levels are expected to be at their lowest.

Beach Monitoring & Notification Program:
The state of New Jersey and local health departments have received nearly $2 million dollars in EPA grants through the federal BEACH Act. New York State has received $2.3 million. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will receive an additional $490,000 in 2008 to continue its beach monitoring and notification program and to conduct intensive sanitation surveys at high-priority beaches. New York will receive $560,000.

Total Maximum Daily Loads and Continuing Assessment:
In combating pollution, it is critical to set budgets or limits for how much of a particular pollutant a body of water can take. These budgets, called total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), are currently being developed for nutrients going into the NY/NJ Harbor and the New York Bight. Nutrients can cause phytoplankton blooms which die and decompose resulting in low dissolved oxygen and EPA will maintain its summer-long assessments of nutrient dissolved oxygen conditions within the New York Bight. EPA will use its boats to assess the water and collect water samples to determine what impact nutrients have on the levels of dissolved oxygen in the water.

For more information on EPA’s diverse coastal water activities, visit:

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