By Clean Ocean Action
While beach-goers hit the nation’s beaches to beat the heat, a report shows serious public health risks and problems with the health of beach water in New Jersey and across the nation. Last year, there were 23,481 closing and advisory days nationwide and 132 in New Jersey, according to a report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on the nation’s beaches. New Jersey-based groups used the national release of the report to focus on regional and national threats to water quality and to propose solutions.
NRDC’s 22nd annual report, Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, analyzes government data on beach water testing results at thousands of beaches from 2011. The report confirms that last year, our nation’s beach water continued to suffer from serious contamination – including oil and human and animal waste – and a concerted effort to control future pollution is required. At the same time, proposed federal and state actions will eviscerate testing programs and leave citizens vulnerable to sewage exposure.
“The recent waste wash-up and beach closures in Long Beach Island show the devastating impact of pollution,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “Clean waters benefit public health, marine life, the coastal economy, and New Jersey’s families and tourists who want to enjoy the beach. That is why it is unconscionable for Environmental Protection Agency to zero-out funding and for the state of New Jersey to lag so far behind in water quality protection rules.”
Beach Testing Findings – 2011:
There were 23,481 closing and advisory days at America’s beaches, including 2,344 due to BP oil spill.
Water quality at beaches remained largely steady, with 8 percent of beach water samples nationwide exceeding public health standards in 2011 and 2010, compared to 7 percent in the previous four years.
Most of closing and advisory days nationwide were issued because testing revealed indicator bacteria levels in the water that exceeded health standards, 47 percent were attributed to stormwater runoff, 49 percent unknown, 12 percent miscellaneous including wildlife, and 6 percent were due to sewage spills and overflows (more than one source were reported for some events).
In New Jersey:
• 226 ocean and bay beaches were tested.
• 132 closing and advisory days last year, an increase from 109 in 2011. There was a 29 percent increase in the number of closings alone. There would be more if all counties posted advisories for single samples.
• Only Monmouth County posted advisories at the beach and the state Department of Environmental Protection posted them online for exceedances.
• 17 percent (23) of closing/advisory days last year were due to elevated bacteria levels.
• 5 percent (6) were due to advisories issued for a sewage spill or overflowing manhole.
• 79 percent (103) were preemptive, i.e., without waiting for monitoring results due to rainfall and known problems with bacterial levels.
• 3 percent of samples exceeded the standard, an increase from 2 percent in 2010.
• New Jersey ranked 4th in the nation (out of 30 states) for cleanest beaches based on number of samples exceeding national standards in 2011 (lowest to highest).
“Pollution in recreational waters nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, eye, ear, nose and throat infections, diarrhea, and other serious health problems,” said Heather Saffert, staff scientist, Clean Ocean Action. “There are areas with persistent pollution that need to be investigated and sources that need to be cleaned up. For example, there are some efforts underway in the Tom’s River area and Wreck Pond, which will hopefully result in reduced pollution.”
Testing Program at Risk and Improvements Needed: The EPA has proposed to cut funding for the entire National Beach Monitoring Program. Fortunately, Congressional ocean champions, including Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Representative Frank Pallone, D-6th, have responded and are working to ensure that funds are fully reinstated in the budget. Our groups strongly support their efforts. The 2000 Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) needs to be reauthorized. Since 2000, New Jersey Congressional leaders have sponsored this act.
In N.J., the Department of Health and Senior Services has responsibility to update the public recreational bathing rules. However despite efforts and participation by Clean Ocean Action and others, changes to improve these rules have not moved forward. Action by NJDHSS is overdue.
Reducing Pollution Sources: In New Jersey, there are statewide needs for improved storm water management and funding to repair old and aging infrastructure.
“Water quality and overdevelopment top the list of concerns the public has with the Shore,” said Doug O’Malley, interim director of Environment New Jersey. “The public is right – polluted run-off from overdevelopment remains the largest source of beach closures. Nowhere is more threatened than Barnegat Bay which needs a strong and timely clean-up plan to reduce run-off pollution.”
Debbie Mans, baykeeper and executive director of NY/NJ Baykeeper, said, “The Jersey Shore could extend north into the Raritan Bay and NY/NJ Harbor, were it not for Combined Sewer Outfalls (CSOs). New Jersey has 30 CSO permit holders with 254 outfalls discharging 23 billion gallons of untreated waste water a year. These discharges contain plastic, sanitary and even medical waste that can wash up on our beaches, sometimes leading to closures.“
Citizen Groups Take Action: Environmental groups and citizens are working hard to protect the environment.
“It is troubling to know with the ongoing problems with non-point source pollution and CSOs, the EPA feels this is a good time to suspend funding for water quality testing,” said Richard Lee, executive director, Surfer Environmental Alliance (SEA). “The economy is still shaky and one of New Jerseys’ stronger revenue streams and job producers is given another obstacle to overcome. Please appeal to your representatives to reinstate funding for water quality testing. SEA is supporting additional water quality testing to identify and help create the momentum needed to fix storm water problems in Monmouth County.”
“People across this country value clean waters to swim in,” said John Weber, northeast regional manager for the Surfrider Foundation. “Here’s the proof; more than 6,000 Surfrider Foundation supporters have sent emails to their federal elected leaders asking that funding for the BEACH Act be restored in the 2013 budget.”
For more information:
The 5-star rating guide to 200 popular beaches: www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/beach-ratings.asp
NJ Summary: www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/nj.asp
Broadcast-quality video of solutions for cleaner beach water: vimeo.com/album/262783
Tips for a safe trip to the beach: www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/gttw.asp
Clean Ocean Action worked in conjunction with the New Jersey Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, Environment New Jersey, Alliance for a Living Ocean, NY/NJ Baykeeper and Surfer Environmental Alliance on this issue.