EPA Endorses New & Improved Beach Water Quality Safety Threshold

Agency’s Move Helps Protect the Health of Millions of Beachgoers; States to Strengthen Beach Water Quality Notification Practices

WASHINGTON (July 31, 2014) – In a move designed to protect more than 180 million people who visit America’s coastal and Great Lakes beaches every year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced stronger National Beach Guidance for all states to adopt the most protective swimmer safety threshold - a Beach Action Value (BAV) - for water quality monitoring and notification practices in order to receive federal BEACH Act funding.

The new implementation of EPA’s strongest safe-to-swim threshold, which EPA expects to be implemented by grantee states to be eligible for FY 16 funding, is consistent with recommendations urged by the Natural Resources Defense Council and its coalition partners Clean Ocean Action, Hackensack Riverkeeper, Heal the Bay, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance.

Following are statements from NRDC and its partners.

Steve Fleischli, senior attorney and water program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

“By protecting swimmers from unsafe levels of disease-causing bacteria and viruses, today’s sensible decision by EPA will help keep trips to the beach as safe as they should be. Clean beach water is not only critical for public health, it supports healthy coastal economies that generate billions of dollars and support millions of American jobs. We trust EPA will hold states to the highest, most health protective standards to safeguard all swimmers.”

Cindy Zipf, executive director for Clean Ocean Action:

“We commend EPA for including the BAV in its Final Guidance; and urge states to act swiftly and adopt these more protective standards. While this is an important step, testing to keep swimmers safe from sewage must continue to step up to meet 21st century technology. We encourage EPA to move decisively and require states to adopt rapid water quality testing which will lead to same-day public notification of unsafe conditions, and petition Congress to fund this critical program.”

Kirsten James, water quality science and policy director for Heal the Bay:

“We commend EPA for seizing the opportunity through its BEACH grant program to better protect the public from the dangers of polluted water at U.S. beaches. We expect that California and other coastal states will recognize that by employing the recommended BAV value for beach notifications and advisories, they are better protecting public health.”

Deborah A. Mans, Baykeeper and executive director for NY/NJ Baykeeper:

“I congratulate EPA for taking a big step to make sure that people in New Jersey and across the country know when it’s safe to swim. Once parents have information about water quality they can make choices to protect their families; no sensible state would deny that information.”

Captain Bill Sheehan, Riverkeeper and executive director for Hackensack Riverkeeper:

“The EPA did great work today to make sure that swimmers have the information they need before they get in the water. I think when people see how clean their water is, they’re going to hold states to the highest standards.”

Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River Program Director at Riverkeeper:

“In issuing these expanded criteria, the EPA is taking a welcome and much needed step forward in the protection of public health. More remains to be done, however, in the development of real-time protections for beachgoers, in protections for swimmers in non-coastal waterways, and in cleaning up and fixing - once and for all - the sources of pollution that put us at risk in the first place. The next step is for Congress to fully fund BEACH Act programs and truly support the states in monitoring recreational waters, expanding advisories programs, and stopping sewage at its source.”

Kelly Hunter Foster, senior attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance:

“Use of the most protective BAV is critical for public health, and we urge all states to adopt its use. Unfortunately, EPA reports that nearly 43 percent of coastal beaches and 71 percent of streams and rivers are not monitored for disease-causing pathogens that endanger the health of people that swim and fish in our nation’s waters.  Because pathogens are the leading cause of water pollution in the U.S., it is imperative that EPA and states take action to address the pollution sources, adopt protective criteria and action values for all waters and expand monitoring and public notification programs.”

More information on Beach Action Value (BAV):

The EPA will require states that participate in the BEACH grant program to adopt the more protective BAV for beach notification actions, unless states submit to EPA a written justification for an alternative based in science, local water quality data, or monitoring experience. According to NRDC’s recent 2014 Testing the Waters report, ten percent of water quality samples collected from nearly 3,500 American beaches failed EPA’s BAV. States are responsible for monitoring water quality at our nation’s beaches.

In its 2012 Recreational Water Quality Criteria, EPA identified the BAV as an optional and precautionary “do-not-exceed” beach water quality threshold that offers greater public health protection than EPA’s current water quality criteria for states. States’ use of the BAV as “enhanced protection of recreational waters” has been voluntary, and most local beach managers and state officials responsible for beach policies have not relied on it to provide important safety information to the public. Now, with the integration of the BAV into the national BEACH grant program, grantee states will be expected to protect the public with this greater level of protection.

In addition to states using EPA’s new BAV, all states should adopt rapid testing and monitoring of beach water quality to offer swimmers more immediate health protections when contamination is detected. But many beaches are still not monitored regularly, in part because the BEACH Act has never been fully funded by Congress. More federal support for the BEACH Act can greatly influence the scope of the program and the methods used to protect beachgoers from dangerous bacteria and viruses.

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