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EPA Announces Study at Fairhope Municipal Beach in Fairhope, Alabama to Develop Rapid Beach Water Quality Tests

Release Date: 05/25/2007
Contact Information: EPA: Melissa Anley-Mills, (202) 564-5179 / (202) 664-7272 anley-mills.melissa@epa.gov City of Fairhope, Alabama: Sherry Sullivan (251) 990-0218 / Sherry.Sullivan@cofairhope.com

(Fairhope, Ala. – May 25, 2007) A day at the beach shouldn’t mean risking exposure to harmful bacteria, but because current tests for measuring fecal contamination take 24 to 48 hours, lifeguards and beach managers can’t make same-day decisions about beach water quality. To keep beachgoers safe, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing a new generation of water quality tests through the National Beaches study. Visitors to the Fairhope Municipal Beach in Fairhope, Alabama will play an important role as the EPA study team comes to collect data at this Alabama east bay beach.

Up to 6,000 beachgoers at the Fairhope Municipal Beach will be recruited to participate in the study on weekends through mid-July. Volunteers will be asked to provide information about their recreational activities at the beach and health status after their beach visit. In addition, EPA will monitor beach water quality throughout the days of the study to help understand the link between water pollution, swimming at the beach, and people’s health.

"Swimming in water of poor quality can cause a variety of illnesses ranging from stomach problems to eye and ear infections. This study will help prevent these illnesses by giving health officials and beach managers the power to know the water quality sooner and therefore take actions to protect beachgoers" said Dr. Rebecca Calderon, director of the study at EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

“The support of the community and beachgoers is key. With their involvement, EPA's science can provide the information that health officials and beach managers need to make decisions to protect public health” said Dr. Al Dufour of EPA and a co-investigator of the research project.

The study will contribute to National Beach Study research conducted in 2003 and 2004 at four freshwater beaches on the Great Lakes and one marine beach at Edgewater Beach in Biloxi, Mississippi. The new tests provide results in two hours or less rather than the standard 24 to 48 hours, allowing local beach managers to test the water in the morning and make reliable, fast decisions about the safety of beach waters the same day.

The National Beach Study is being conducted by the EPA and involves the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in cooperation with the City of Fairhope. Fairhope Municipal Beach, with its subtropical waters and nearby large population, was selected to ensure that the Study included a representative sample of U.S. beaches.

EPA relies on quality science as the basis for sound policy and decision-making. EPA’s laboratories and research centers, and EPA's research grantees, are building the scientific foundation needed to support the Agency’s mission to safeguard human health and the environment.

For additional information on the National Beach Study entitled the National Epidemiological and Environmental Assessment of Recreational Water Study (NEEAR), visit the Web site: http://www.epa.gov/nheerl/neear/.