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Protecting Beachgoers is Top Priority for EPA

2014 July 3
Nancy Stoner


July 3, 2014
1:48 pm EDT

People swim at a beach with a city skyline in the distance.Summer’s here, and it’s time to celebrate the 4th of July! Many of us will celebrate by going to the beach –over 307 million of us took trips to the beach last year, according to the U.S. Lifesaving Association. This is a good opportunity for me to tell you about EPA’s work to protect swimmers at America’s beaches.

Protecting public health is a top priority for EPA, and we rely on the best science to do that. We also work closely with our partners at the state and local level, to make sure we learn from their experience and help support their programs.

Setting Safer Standards for Recreational Water

In 2012, we recommended new water quality criteria to better protect the health of Americans engaging in a variety of recreational activities such as swimming, surfing and paddling. The criteria are based on the latest science and improve protection of public health by addressing a broader range of illness symptoms, better accounting for pollution after heavy rainfall, ensuring equal protection for coastal and Great Lakes waters, encouraging early alerts to beachgoers and promoting rapid water testing.

States and local public health officials use recreational criteria to determine when water quality meets public health standards for safe recreation. The criteria also provide optional thresholds for when to issue swimming advisories or beach closures.

Encouraging States to Incorporate the Safer Standards

This year, we are working to update our guidance for states and territories that receive grants from EPA to help monitor their beaches for bacterial pollution. A major goal for this revision is to encourage states to adopt a more comprehensive approach to monitoring and public notification plans by using better information and new tools. In the draft version, we incorporated key aspects of the 2012 recreational water quality criteria.

In an effort to increase protection of the public while swimming or otherwise enjoying activities in or near the water, the draft guidance proposed a new grant requirement for states to use a beach notification threshold value that would provide enhanced public health protection to beachgoers.

We asked for public comments, and since May have been working to address the comments we have received.  We will be continuing to work with state and local officials to make sure that we have an approach that is workable for them and also protects the public health and safety of beachgoers.

Gathering and Providing Information about Local Beaches

To help you plan your next trip to the beach, we’re making sure you have access to information we collect about beaches around the country. The BEACON (Beach Advisory and Closing Online Notification) is a national database that contains beach monitoring and notification data reported by states, territories, and tribes. If BEACON does not have recent water quality information, contact your state, territory, or tribe’s beach program or EPA’s regional beach contact person.

Our How’s My Waterway? app can help you find information about local waters using your mobile device.

We want you to enjoy your summer and we want your experience to be as safe as possible. Our priority is to use the best science to ensure that swimmers are adequately protected while in the water at our nation’s spectacular coastlines.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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