Posted by: Drew | August 8, 2009

Syringes, Sewage, and Swimming – A Dangerous Mix

Increase in New Jersey Beach Closures & Advisories in 2008

Groups Support Federal Bills and Make Recommendations to Improve Beach Water Quality

Belmar, NJ – The 19th annual report, “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Beach Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), shows serious public health risks and problems with the health of beach water in New Jersey and across the nation.  The report also identifies sources of beach water pollution, health risks, and economic impacts.  The report, which was released locally in New Jersey by Clean Ocean Action (COA) and Environment New Jersey, provides information about beach closures in 2008.  For the full report, go to www.nrdc.org/ttw/.

Polluted water at many American beaches jeopardized the health of swimmers last year with the number of closing and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches reaching more than 20,000 for the fourth consecutive year.  While the report found a 10 percent decrease in nationwide closing and advisory days at beaches from 2007, it reveals this drop was the result of dry conditions in many parts of the country and decreased funding for water monitoring in some states last year, rather than a sign of large-scale improvement.  Most closures are rain-related or have unknown sources.

New Jersey monitors 260 beaches:  224 designated bathing beaches and 36 environmental stations.  No advisories or closures are issued for the environmental stations even though many of these beaches are used by the public, and environmental stations are not included in NRDC’s analyses.

“At the beach, families should be able to relax and not worry about swimming in human and animal waste that can make them sick,” said Heather Saffert, Staff Scientist, Clean Ocean Action.  “Clean waters are important for the public’s health as well as for marine wildlife. Sadly, pollution problems still occur at NJ beaches – especially near storm drain outfalls and in coastal bays and estuaries.  People need to be aware of these health risks.”

NRDC’s report provides a 5-star rating guide for 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches. The highest beach ranking in NJ is a 3 out of 5 due to old state policies.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends closures or advisories after one-day sampling; instead, New Jersey takes another sample the next day before issuing a closure, thereby extending the time the public is potentially exposed to pollution.

In New Jersey, the 2008 ocean and bay beach closures were as follows:

208 days of closures/advisories, an increase from the 142 days of closures/advisories in 2007.

120 days were preemptive due to medical waste or trash that washed up on the beach; 117 of these days were due to the August criminal medical dumping event in Cape May.

56 days were preemptive closings (without waiting for testing results) due to heavy rainfall that is known to cause high bacteria and pollution problems at 5 beaches.

1 day was a preemptive closure due to a sewage leak.

31 days of closings and advisories were a result of direct monitoring the revealed elevated bacteria levels from unknown sources of contamination.

Point Pleasant Central was one of the four lowest ranked popular beaches in the nation.

The deliberate medical waste dumping event off Cape May was one of the worst in two decades with over 200 syringes and other debris washing ashore.  The affected towns and state responded rapidly by closing beaches and publicizing the issue and ability to track down the syringes.  The culprit turned himself in to the police.

“We are seeing every year more and more beach closings, brown tides, medical waste, and jelly fish at the shore, this is an alarm bell going off that we have to be more to protective our ocean and shore that we all love,” stated Jeff Tittel Director NJ Sierra Club.  “Sprawl and over development is directly killing our coast and the State of NJ does not even want to test for the problems, let alone fix them.”

When it rains, pathogens from pet wastes, pesticides, fertilizers, litter, other pollutants, and even raw sewage wash into waterways, thereby polluting and closing beaches.  According to the state climatologist, precipitation (rain and snowfall) has increased by 5% over the last 30 years in New Jersey.

Federal Bills to Improve the Nation’s Beach Water

“The NRDC’s annual ‘Testing the Waters’ report is a critical barometer for the state of water quality at New Jersey’s beaches and beaches all over the country,” stated U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).  “It is also a reminder of the responsibility that we have to keep our beaches clean and safe.  The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act, which I introduced in the Senate would take steps to prevent water contamination, increase funds for monitoring and provide for faster notification of unhealthy conditions.  New Jersey’s beaches are essential to the state’s economy and must be held to highest public health standard,” he added.

“Millions of families who are enjoying the Jersey Shore this summer, like the millions of families who have enjoyed the shore in summers past, want to ensure that our beaches are clean and safe for generations to come,” said U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ). “We need to take care of them because they are natural treasures and because they are an enormous part of our state’s economy. We are working to protect the Jersey Shore in Congress with legislation to keep them clean and with our efforts to keep oil drilling away from our coastline.”

Many of the environmental groups’ recommendations are contained in the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health (CCEPH) Act. Both Senate and House of Representative bills are pending in U.S. Congress.  New Jersey leaders are the prime bill sponsors.  The prime sponsor of Senate Bill (S. 878) is Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg; Sen. Robert Menendez is a co-sponsor.  The prime sponsor of the House Bill (H.R. 2093) is U.S. Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-D-6); the co-sponsors from New Jersey are Reps. Steven Rothman (NJ-D-9) and John Adler (NJ-R-3).  The Act reauthorizes the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) of 2000 and would increase support for beach water protection programs and identification pollution sources.  The senate version provides funding to not just find, but also to cleanup the sources.  While both versions promote the use of rapid testing methods to detect beach water contamination, the senate version has a faster time requirement that would result in prompt notification of public health risks.  These tests that take 2 to 4 hours are now available, but not yet approved by the EPA.

“Today’s report only confirms the need for a reauthorization of the BEACH Act,” said Rep. Frank Pallone. “That is why I introduced the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act of 2009, which will increase funding for BEACH Act grants and require tough standards for beach water quality testing and communication. I am pleased that my colleagues in the House are planning to vote on this bill as early as today.  New Jersey’s beaches are vital, not only to residents of the state but also for the countless tourists who come to visit each year. Beaches are the primary attraction for New Jersey’s tourism economy, which provides nearly 500,000 jobs and generates $36 billion in economic activity for the state each year,” Pallone added.

“Knowledge is power; people have the right to know if they may be exposed to fecal contamination and the sooner the better,” said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action.  “Passing a law that gets swimmers information faster is essential.  The vote on the House version of the bill is imminent and an important first step.  The bill will require all states to comply with new testing methods, require track down of any suspected sources, and mandate swift reporting of polluted beaches.  Next, all swimmers can turn to the Senate bill which will require rapid tests that will result in same day information for swimmers.  Combined, these bills will bring testing and notification into the 21st century,” added Zipf.

“Developers are loving the Shore to death, and beach-goers are paying the price,” said Doug O’Malley, Field Director for Environment New Jersey.  “Jersey beaches are being shut down because of the run-off pollution from sprawl, and the state too often treats this like a problem not to be talked about.  On the federal level, funding through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund and a Clean Water Trust Fund to help communities to clean up sewage and stormwater pollution now and in the future is also critical.”

Update on Improving the State Bathing Rules

COA and NJ environmental groups recently called on the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services to update the public recreational bathing rules.  In response, the Department has said they are open to making some of the changes by next year’s beach season and will make more changes by the 2011 season at the latest.

Know Before You Go…In

“Increasingly, people are getting sick from going in the ocean,” said John Weber, Northeast Regional Manager of the Surfrider Foundation. “We will be helping these people, especially sick surfers, tell their stories to shine a light on what needs to be done.”

Contact with sewage and animal waste polluted waters, including while swimming, surfing, diving, water-skiing, windsurfing and kiting, sailing, and surf fishing, can cause diseases and illnesses such as gastroenteritis, nausea, vomiting, dysentery, hepatitis, and ear, nose, and throat problems.  Consequences are worse for children, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system.

To protect their health, citizens should exercise caution if they are not sure if the water is safe by avoiding swimming after heavy rain, looking for and not swimming near storm drains or pipes emptying on or near the beach, and looking for more obvious signs of pollution, such as discoloration of the water or floating debris.  For information on the latest beach closings in New Jersey, call the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s beach closure hotline at 1-800-648-SAND or visit www.njbeaches.org (ocean and bay beaches).

According to the groups releasing the report today, citizens can actively participate in improving water quality and can protect their health and beaches by practicing environmentally conscious behavior, such as cleaning up after their pets, conserving water, and not dumping anything into storm drains, which flow to nearby waterways, and eventually, to the ocean.  Citizens can volunteer and participate in monitoring programs (http://www.state.nj.us/dep/wms/bfbm/vm/).  Citizens can also contact their municipalities to ensure that stormwater-related ordinances are passed and enforced.

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