State Summary: Pennsylvania

Ranked 22nd in Beach Water Quality (out of 30 states)
14% of samples exceeded the national Beach Action Value for designated beach areas in 2013.

Summer 2014 is filled with opportunities to improve water quality throughout the United States and to better protect people's health in the process. Everyone can now support a long-awaited rule to enhance protections for small streams and wetlands—these waters can minimize polluted runoff that contributes to poor beach water quality, and can filter out contaminants that promote algae blooms.

State and federal officials have ample legal tools today to rein in stormwater pollution at the city and regional scale. And beach managers can use a new and important tool, the health-protective Beach Action Value developed by the EPA, to make swimming advisory decisions that more fully safeguard public health.

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Pennsylvania 2013 Beach Water Quality Summary

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act helps states and local governments develop monitoring programs to protect public health. Through these programs local officials test beach water for bacteria and issue closings or advisories when bacteria levels exceed a certain threshold. The EPA recently issued a new Beach Action Value (BAV), which is a more protective threshold than the national allowable bacteria levels used in previous years to trigger beach advisories. The EPA considers the BAV to be a "conservative, precautionary tool for making beach notification decisions." While the use of the BAV is currently optional, the EPA's proposed National Beach Guidance and Required Performance Criteria for Grants would require states receiving BEACH Act funding to use the BAV to trigger beach notifications. In light of this information, in assessing 2013 beach water quality NRDC has chosen to use the BAV in order to best protect beachgoers from water quality health risks.

Pennsylvania has 40 miles of Lake Erie coastline, all within Erie County. Under Pennsylvania law, public swimming is allowed only at beaches operated by an individual or organization that has a valid permit from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. There are eight miles of permitted public bathing beaches, including nine beaches at Presque Isle State Park; one, Freeport Beach, in North East Township; and one at Camp Fitch in Springfield Township. The coastal beach monitoring program is administered by the Erie County Department of Health (ECDH). Beachgoers can learn about beach advisories on the ECDH website.

What Does Beach Water Monitoring Show?

In 2013, Pennsylvania reported 13 coastal beaches, 10 of which were monitored. Of all reported beach monitoring samples, 14% exceeded the Beach Action Value (BAV) of 190 E. coli bacteria colony forming units (cfu) per 100 ml freshwater in a single sample. NRDC considers all reported samples individually (without averaging) when calculating the percent exceedance rates in this analysis. This includes duplicate samples and reported samples taken outside the official beach season, if any.

The beaches with the highest percent exceedance rates of the BAV in 2013 were Freeport Beach (34%), Beach 11 (22%), Beach 8 (Pettinato Beach) (16%), Beach 1 East (15%), and Mill Road Beaches (14%), all in Erie County.

Pennsylvania Water Quality Trend 2009–20131

The bar chart below illustrates the general trend of beach water quality exceedance rates in Pennsylvania over the past five years. Note that only samples from a common set of 27 beaches monitored each year from 2009–2013 are included in the bar chart. Percent exceedance rates in 2009-2012 are based on the national single-sample maximum standard for designated beach areas of 235 E. coli bacteria cfu/100 ml water that was in place during those years. For comparison purposes, exceedance rates for 2013 are shown based on the historical national standard of 235 E. coli bacteria cfu/100 ml water, as well as on the EPA's new Beach Action Value of 190 E. coli cfu/100 ml water.

Percent of Samples Exceeding Daily Bacterial Maximum for Beaches Reported 2009-2013

    • % exceedance of national standard in place 2009-2012
    • % exceedance of national BAV safety threshold

    * Please note exceedance rates for 2013 are shown based on the new BAV safety threshold and the historical national standard for comparison purposes. Additionally, only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2009-2013 are included in the bar chart.

    Pennsylvania 2013 Monitoring Results

    County
    Beach
    Total Samples
    % of samples exceeding
    BAV
    View
      NOTE: Data and state-specific information for this summary were collected from the U.S. EPA, direct conversations with beach managers in the state, state grant reports to the EPA for BEACH Act funding, and the state water quality website. The information in this state summary reflects current data as of June 2, 2014.
    1. If the 2013 percent exceedance values in this summary don’t match, why not? The value at the top of the page reflects the proportion of samples exceeding the Beach Action Value (BAV) for designated beach areas. Additionally, only samples from a common set of beaches monitored each year from 2009 to 2013 are included in the bar chart. Because some beaches were not monitored in each of those years, the percent exceedance for this subset of beaches may not have the same value as the percent exceedance for all of the beaches monitored in 2013. For historical reasons, the percent exceedance values shown here are based on the national single-sample daily maximum standard that was in place from 2009 to 2012. In assessing 2013 beach water quality, this analysis is based on EPA’s new BAV of 60 cfu/100ml enterococcus for marine beaches and 190 cfu/100 ml E. coli for Great Lakes beaches, in order to best protect beachgoers from water quality health risks.

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