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As Beach Season Heats Up, EPA Water Quality Efforts Help Ensure Healthy Beaches for Rhode Island

Release Date: 06/24/2007
Contact Information: EPA Public Affairs, (617) 918-1010

(Warwick, R.I. – June 23, 2007) – Beachgoers at Warwick’s Goddard Memorial State Park today enjoyed the sun and water, and also spent some of their time learning about EPA efforts to ensure a healthy day enjoying Rhode Island coastal areas.

EPA officials – from both the New England Regional office and from the Agency’s Office of Research and Development – announced cutting-edge research underway at EPA to develop rapid water quality tests to ensure healthy water at beaches. EPA also presented a grant of $212,640 to Rhode Island public health officials to improve and expand existing water quality monitoring and public notification programs at Ocean State beaches.

EPA research is well underway to improve water quality tests that can be used at fresh- and salt-water beaches and provide results in as few as two hours – current tests take up to 24 - 48 hours to accurately determine levels of bacteria and other pathogens in swimming and other recreational waters. The study, called “National Epidemiological and Environmental Assessment of Recreational Water” (NEEAR) is evaluating new rapid methods through epidemiologic health studies, some of which are taking place this summer at Goddard Memorial State Park.

In order to evaluate the accuracy of data collected under the NEEAR study, EPA researchers will collect water quality samples from swimming areas several times a day on weekends and holidays, while also asking beachgoers about their activities (i.e., if they swam in the water or ate food at the beach). Based on the information compiled, the researchers will then follow-up by telephone with the participants 10-12 days later to determine if they experienced any health impacts that could be attributed to exposure to beach water. This information will improve our understanding of health impacts resulting from exposure to bacteria and other pathogens, and in turn assist health officials’ efforts to accurately inform the public about beach water conditions and health concerns.

“Rhode Islanders visiting Goddard Memorial State Park this summer can help EPA by participating in this voluntary survey,” said Dr. George Gray, Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “More accurate data and detailed understanding of human health impacts can result in happier, healthier beach going for everybody.”

EPA’s New England regional office also presented a $212,640 check to the Rhode Island Department of Health for continued water quality monitoring at R.I. marine beaches. The grant, provided under the 2000 BEACH Act, is part of EPA’s “It’s a Shore Thing” Campaign to ensure healthy water quality at New England beaches. This year EPA is focusing on communities with chronic beach closures due to impaired water quality, with a goal of eliminating closures at New England beaches. EPA is working with state and local officials to coordinate efforts to develop and implement effective action plans to reduce pollution that impairs recreational water quality.

“EPA is proud to help ensure cleaner and healthier beaches in Rhode Island,” said Ira Leighton, deputy regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "EPA’s grant for clean beaches will help the state to continue its strong, effective beach monitoring program that protects peoples’ health.”

In six years the EPA campaign has spread across New England coastlines to improve and expand water quality monitoring and public notification programs. Rhode Island has received more than $1.3 million since 2002 from EPA – helping to ensure that the public can enjoy their beautiful beaches and swim in clean ocean water. EPA has awarded New England states over $7 million since 2002 to ensure active beach water sampling during summer months.

The progress over the past decade to expand beach monitoring while reducing beach closures due to impaired water quality has been significant in Rhode Island. In 1994, a mere 165 water samples were collected from 16 freshwater and 28 saltwater beaches. Last year, with the help of funding under the Federal Beach Act, over 2,700 samples were taken at 69 saltwater beaches, while unhealthy water quality resulted in beaches being closed for 256 days.

Beach closures correspond closely with rainfall, when storm water can impair water quality. Addressing storm water runoff is part of EPA’s strategy to work with communities experiencing chronic beach closures in New England. Storm water runoff and untreated sewage released into bodies of water contains bacteria, viruses and protozoans; some of which can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis or more serious diseases such as hepatitis. Runoff can be contaminated through pet waste, wildlife, oil from roads, illicit connections and various other sources. Untreated sewage can find its way from leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats and combined sewer overflows.

More information:

EPA New England’s Clean New England Beaches Initiative (http://www.epa.gov/region1/eco/beaches)

Beach and swimming conditions at Rhode Island beaches (http://www.ribeaches.org/closures.cfm)

EPA research to improve water quality tests (http://www.epa.gov/nheerl/neear/)

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