EPA Provides Over $254,000 for Environmental Monitoring of Massachusetts Shoreline Beaches
With the summer beach season in high gear, EPA’s New England office is awarding a $254,440 grant to the Mass. Dept. of Public Health (MDPH) to improve and expand existing water quality monitoring and public notification programs at coastal beaches.
The EPA funding is made available through the federal Beach Act of 2000, which requires coastal states to monitor beaches and notify the public about water quality. Since 2001, Massachusetts has been awarded $1.5 million towards improving water quality monitoring and reporting at shoreline beaches. With this year’s funds, the amount awarded in the region will surpass $7 million.
The EPA funding will allow the MDPH to continue providing oversight and technical and financial assistance to the Mass. Dept. of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) and local health departments, to ensure a coordinated effort to regularly monitor all of Massachusetts’ coastal beaches.
“Because Massachusetts’ beach season is so short, it makes every beach day a precious one,” said Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “EPA’s goal is to eliminate chronic beach closures across New England. We are working with state and local officials to develop and implement aggressive efforts to remove sources of contamination, so that everyone can enjoy a day at the beach.”
“The enhanced system of public health watchfulness and more rapid public notification of test results have had an enormous impact in bringing environmental best practices to Massachusetts beaches. The EPA funding has been critical to the success of our beaches program,” said Suzanne Condon, Massachusetts Associate Public Health Commissioner. “The strong local and state support for these programs reflects Massachusetts’ commitment to public health protection at its coastal beaches.”
Also today, MDPH released its annual report on the status of beaches in Massachusetts and results of investigations at Flagship Beaches in Quincy, Provincetown, and Willows Pier in Salem. The annual report highlights the improvements in monitoring and public notification at Massachusetts beaches since the institution of the EPA Beach grant.
Flagship Beaches are beaches that are high-use and have a history of closures and, with local, state or federal resources, demonstrate a strong potential for improvement. Working with local health officials, MDPH assessed the sources of pollution at these beaches, and recommended specific management practices to further improve water quality.
MDPH also highlighted in these reports the significant efforts undertaken by local officials in these communities to improve beach water quality.
Utilizing practices highlighted by the Flagship beach program, EPA’s Clean New England Beaches Initiative has helped states and local beach managers take the next steps of finding and eliminating pollution sources that cause beach closures. We are doubling our efforts this year to develop action plans for those communities with chronic contamination problems for beach water.
Polluted runoff and untreated sewage released into the water can contain 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 from pet waste, wildlife, illicit connections and various other sources. Sources of sewage include leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats and combined sewer overflows. Detecting these bacteria requires consistent, high quality monitoring; exposure is preventable.
As part of the Massachusetts Beach Act, municipalities must annually report to MDPH results from previous year’s monitoring, as well as the number and duration of advisories posted at both freshwater and coastal beaches. Since 2001, MDPH has overseen monitoring by the DCR and local health departments at over 600 coastal beaches. As the MDPH annual report released today shows, the number of beach closures in any given year in Massachusetts is low. In 2006, however, 154 out of 621 monitored beaches were closed one or several days for a total of 1571 days out of almost 70,000 beach days for the summer. (This means that beaches in Massachusetts were open for swimming about 98 percent of the time.) Compared to previous years, the number of beach action days increased in 2006, partly because communities have monitored more beaches and reported the results to the Mass. Dept. of Public Health. With this increased monitoring and notification, Commonwealth residents are assured that swimming will not result in health concerns.
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