U.S. beaches getting dirtier and some are disappearing

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has said this week that more and more U.S. beaches are being closed due to contamination, partly because there is more pollution and partly because of better monitoring.

In it's annual clean beaches report, the council has found that beaches were closed or the subject of a health advisory on nearly 20,000 days in 2004, which was up by 9 percent from 2003 and the most days since tracking started 15 years ago.

Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project, sensibly suggests that instead of closing beaches, the water should be cleaned up.

She says now authorities are better at finding the problems, they need to stop the pollution at its source by repairing and replacing leaky sewage and septic systems, and cleaning up contaminated runoff.

The NRDC found that Texas, Washington and Maryland had the biggest increase in the number of closing and advisory days.

The report also found that 85 percent of the closing and advisory days were caused by dangerously high levels of bacteria found in human or animal waste, and sewage and storm runoffs are usually to blame.

Stoner says stronger enforcement for those who aren't doing their share is needed , along with more federal help for local communities to control runoff and update their aging sewage systems, if beach-related business are not to lose out.

The study quotes a report that estimated that closing a Lake Michigan beach could cause losses of as much as $37,000 a day.

The NRDC says authorities who are doing more to keep beaches clean include the city of Los Angeles, Scarborough State Beach in Rhode Island and Door County, Wisconsin, northeast of Green Bay.

The report also points a finger at communities that do not monitor or control pollution, or warn the public when beach water is unsafe, such as Los Angeles County, the city of Beverly Hills, Van Buren County, Michigan and Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.

According to the NRDC, Congress should fully fund the 2000 Beaches Environmental Assessment, Closure and Health (BEACH) Act, which requires all coastal and Great Lakes states to adopt the Environmental Protection agency's bacterial standards, provides grants for monitoring and notification programs, and requires the EPA to make beach water quality data easily accessible.

But Stoner points out that just this week, Congress cut the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, the main federal support for water infrastructure.

'We're going backwards', she said.

The NRDC has urged the EPA to tighten controls on sewer overflows and storm water discharges, ensure that states and localities monitor water quality and notify the public when it does not meet bacterial standards.

In another report published on Thursday it was found that many beaches are disappearing.

Surfrider.org says in its report, that more than 75 percent of Florida's shoreline, 47 percent of New York's shoreline, and 26 percent of New Jersey's and Virginia's shorelines are identified as critically eroding.

Richard Whitman of the U.S. Geological Survey's Lake Michigan Ecological research station and colleagues, reported last week that sand can carry more bacteria than water at beaches.

Whitman who did a study in 2003 found bacteria levels in sand on Chicago's lakefront averaged 10 times that of the water.

The report is available online at http://www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/titinx.asp.



The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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