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EPA Announces Initiative To Improve Water Quality at Salem Beaches

Release Date: 08/27/2002
Contact Information: Andrew Spejewski, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1014

SALEM, MA – Flanked by state and local officials at Salem's Willows Beach, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency New England Administrator Robert W. Varney today announced a joint campaign to reduce beach closures at Salem city beaches as part of the agency's Clean New England Beaches Initiative.

Part of a $1.1 million program unveiled this summer, Varney also announced the designation of Salem city beaches collectively as one of 10 "Flagship" beaches in New England that will serve as models for improving beach water quality. Among other activities, Flagship beaches will get targeted attention through enhanced beach monitoring, assessments and pollution management.

The EPA initiative comes on the heels of 89 saltwater beaches in Massachusetts being closed at least one day last summer due to pollution, including four closures each at Willows Beach and Juniper Point in Salem. There have been three closures in Salem so far this summer.

"We've made huge progress cleaning our waters in Massachusetts, but there are still too many days in the summer when families cannot swim due to poor water quality," Varney said. "Our goal is to eliminate those beach closures. With federal, state and local cooperation here in Salem, we can build on the city's hard work to date and create a model for the rest of New England."

"The city of Salem has been proactive in its protection of swimming areas by investigating potential sources of contamination and eliminating them," said Salem Mayor Stanley J. Usovicz, Jr., who received a flag from Varney commemorating the selection of Salem's beaches as Flagship beaches. "We welcome the Flagship designation to not only continue and enhance this progress. Here in Salem, our backyard is the beach which truly adds to our quality of life."

As part of the initiative, EPA awarded a $260,000 grant to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MA DPH) to help improve its beach monitoring and assessment program. The grant is among more than $1 million being awarded this year to New England's five coastal states for their beach monitoring programs. The funding was made possible by the Federal Beach Act approved by Congress in 2000.

EPA has also conducted a limited sanitary survey of pollution sources along Salem beaches. A draft report has been completed and will be presented to the city in September. MA DPH will be working with an environmental consulting firm and local authorities to provide more intensive studies of fecal contamination sources at the three Flagship beaches in Massachusetts, the others being Quincy's Wollaston Beach and Provincetown's Ryder Street Beach.

"Flagship" beaches were nominated to the EPA by each state as good models for other beach managers to learn from. All parties – federal, state, and local – have committed to reducing and eliminating closures due to pollution at the flagship beaches and distributing the lessons that can be learned from them. Beaches were selected that serve large populations, historically have had closures due to pollution, demonstrate high-quality beach monitoring and management practices, and show strong potential to effectively use state and federal resources to reduce closures.

In addition to designating Flagship beaches, the Clean New England Beaches Initiative includes:

    • providing federal beach grants to boost water quality monitoring, pollution assessments and public notification about water quality
    • providing technical assistance - and, where appropriate, enforcement support – to local and state agencies to identify and reduce pollution sources, focusing primarily on non-point pollution sources
    • promoting high-quality monitoring, assessment technologies and information sharing through a newly-created state/federal Beach Work Group on Closures and Monitoring
    • boosting public involvement and education about water quality issues at coastal beaches
Under Massachusetts law, swimming beaches must be closed when levels of certain bacteria, which indicate the presence of fecal contamination, are too high. Polluted runoff and untreated sewage released into the water can contain bacteria, viruses and protozoans, some of which can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis or more serious diseases such as hepatitis. Runoff can be contaminated from pet waste, wildlife, illicit connections and various other sources. Sources of sewage include leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats, and combined sewer overflows.