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NRDC Sues EPA for Failing to Protect Beachgoers with Adequate Health Standards

LOS ANGELES (August 3, 2006) -- Beach closings and warnings due to bacterial contamination jumped more than 25 percent in California last year, with Los Angeles County registering the highest levels, according to a new report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Across the country, the number of closing and health advisory days at ocean, bay, and Great Lakes beaches topped 20,000 in 2005 -- the most since NRDC began tracking the problem 16 years ago -- confirming that our nation's beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution. (Read the report, Testing the Waters.)

NRDC's report tallied 5,175 closing and health advisory days across California in 2005, more than a 25 percent increase from 3,985 in 2004. That means the water at California beaches often is dirty enough to cause gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments and other serious health problems. Senior citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems are particularly vulnerable.

This year's report includes new information that provides a more alarming picture of the problem. For the first time, NRDC evaluated beachwater quality and found 8 percent of the beachwater samples taken nationwide violated federal health standards. In California, 11 percent of the samples failed to meet the standards.

Current beachwater health standards, however, do not adequately protect the public and need to be updated, according to NRDC. Later today, NRDC will file a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles against the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to set water quality standards adequate to protect beachgoers from waterborne illnesses.

"People are swimming in bacteria at our local beaches and it's making them sick," said David Beckman, director of the Coastal Water Quality Program at NRDC. "Congress told the EPA to implement modern health standards, but the agency has been asleep at the switch and the deadlines have passed without action."

In 2000, Congress passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act), which required the Environmental Protection Agency to revise the current health standards by October 2005. The agency missed the deadline, and now says it will not comply until 2011. NRDC's lawsuit will force EPA to adopt protective standards on a tighter schedule.

A recent study by UCLA and Stanford University scientists showed that pollution at many Southern California beaches is responsible for illnesses in as many as 1.5 million swimmers and bathers each year, with related healthcare and other costs for one illness, gastroenteritis, amounting to tens of millions of dollars annually. This situation persists even though local agencies project that for less than the cost of a movie ticket per household per year, Los Angeles County could eliminate polluted runoff during the dry months.

"The pollution that fouls our beaches comes from sewers, septic systems, and stormwater runoff from roads and buildings," said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project. "Poorly planned development on our coasts has paved over wetlands and other vegetation that soaked up and filtered polluted stormwater."

"These problems are preventable," added NRDC attorney Anjali Jaiswal. "It would be a lot safer to swim if municipalities used soil and vegetation to capture and filter stormwater at its source, and upgraded their aging sewer systems." (Click here for more information on cleaning up stormwater pollution.)

Beach Buddies and Beach Bums

NRDC today announced the cleanest and dirtiest beaches based on the percentage of beachwater samples that violated federal public health standards. This year there are 32 Beach Buddies and 22 Beach Bums. (For more details about each beach, click here.)

Southern California water quality is often so poor that this year NRDC did not bestow its traditional Beach Buddy award to any beach in the state. That award is reserved for communities that monitor beachwater quality regularly, have no violations of federal public health standards, and take significant steps to reduce pollution.

Beach Bums: A number of California beaches, however, qualified as Beach Bums and for dishonorable mention, signifying especially poor water quality. NRDC gave its Beach Bum award, for beaches where samples violate federal public health standards at least 50 percent of the time, to nine beaches across the state:

  • Los Angeles County: Will Rogers State Beach (Santa Monica Canyon).

  • Orange County: Aliso Beach (Aliso Creek mouth), Crystal Cove State Park, Doheny State Beach, Newport Bay (Santa Ana Delhi), Newport Beach (Buck Gully), and Salt Creek Beach Park.

  • San Diego County: Imperial Beach (Cortez Avenue).

  • Ventura County: Rincon Creek.

Dishonorable Mention: Eight popular beaches, at which standards were violated between 33 and 49 percent of the time, make up the dishonorable mention list:

  • Los Angeles County: Avalon Beach, Cabrillo Beach, Dockweiler State Beach (Ballona Creek), Malibu Beach, Topanga State Beach, and Will Rogers State Beach (Temescal Canyon);

  • San Diego County: Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge;

  • Santa Barbara County: East Beach.

More Beach Bums: The other 13 Beach Bums are:

  • Florida : Shired Island in Dixie County.

  • Georgia: Kings Ferry in Chatham County.

  • Illinois: North Point Marina in Lake County.

  • Louisiana: Bogue Falaya Park in Covington.

  • Maryland: Three beaches in Rock Hall: Bay Country Campground and Beach, Ferry Park, and Rock Hall Beach.

  • Massachusetts : Cockle Cove Creek in Chatham and Sandy Beach in Danvers.

  • Michigan: Singing Bridge Beach in Arenac County.

  • Minnesota: Clyde Avenue Boat Landing Beach in West Duluth.

  • Rhode Island: Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett. Scarborough State Beach was a Beach Buddy in 2005.

  • South Carolina: Pirateland-Lakewood Campground in Myrtle Beach.

Beach Buddies: NRDC's 32 Beach Buddies are:

  • Connecticut: Walnut Beach in Milford. Milford was a Beach Buddy in 2003.

  • Florida: Ten beaches in Brevard County: Cocoa Beach-Minuteman Causeway, Cocoa Beach Pier, Indialantic Boardwalk (now James H. Nance Park), Jetty Park, Paradise Beach (now Howard E. Futch Memorial Park), Patrick Air Force Base North, Pelican Beach Park, Playalinda Beach (at Canaveral National Seashore), Sebastian Inlet North, and Spessard Holland Beach Park North. Brevard County had 34 Beach Bums in 2002.

  • Georgia: Two beaches on Tybee Island: Middle Beach and North Beach.

  • Indiana: Two beaches in Porter County: Kemil Beach (at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore) and Lakeview Beach.

  • Maine: Pemaquid Beach in Bristol.

  • Michigan: Nine beaches in St. Clair County: Burtchville Township Park, Chrysler Park Beach, Conger-Lighthouse Beach, Holland Road Beach, Lakeport State Campground, Lakeport State Park, Lakeside Beach, Marine City Beach, and Marine City Diving Area.

  • Wisconsin: Seven beaches in Door County: Gislason Beach, Haines Park Beach, Percy Johnson Memorial Park Beach, Rock Island State Park Beach, Sand Dune Beach, School House Beach, and Whitefish Bay Boat Launch Beach. Door County was a Beach Buddy in 2005.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages
Summary of Findings
Guide to Finding Clean Beaches
Report: Testing the Waters 2006
National Press Release
Local/Regional Releases:
California | Chicago | Florida | L.A. | N.Y.

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