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Beaches no place for pollution; U.S. E.P.A. provides clean-up grants for the state

by G. Tracy Meehan III

 

For most islanders, going to the beach year-round is a pleasure few in the world have an opportunity to enjoy. It is also an opportunity to personally observe and evaluate a critical part of our environment.

Our fresh water and coastal beaches, ecologically fragile and yet critical environments, provide us a very visible indicator of the health of our environment.

 
 

Over the many years which we foolishly allowed our environment to be used as a dumping ground, our beaches took the brunt of the punishment. By the end of the 1960s, many U.S. beaches had become both unswimmable and unable to sustain the aquatic and other species that need healthy beach habitats to survive and thrive.

This year, millions of us in America will go to our favorite beaches along rivers, lakes, and coastlines. For some, these trips will be less enjoyable because of pollution—some of it highly visible, some not.

The highly visible pollution of oil spills and bottles, cans, and cigarette butts littering our beaches is unpleasant to look at and is harmful to wildlife. The less visible or invisible pollution can truly be a witch’s brew.

The chief culprit in human illness incurred while swimming at the beach are the infectious and toxic organisms that flow into our fresh and coastal beach waters when sewer systems overflow, and the untreated human waste mixes in with the water.

Along with sewage overflows, we also have pollution from diffuse run-off or ‘non-point sources’ such as fertilizers and pesticides from households and farmlands, and gasoline and oil from streets and parking lots. All of this flows down sewers into waters where we swim.

Untreated sewage and fertilizers and pesticides in the water can make you very sick, very quickly, and can ruin an otherwise pleasant experience.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps to reduce both types of pollution, but this summer, it is important for all of us to know what we can do to protect ourselves and our families at the beach.

Micro-organisms are not visible to the eye, but, thanks to a new law, the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000, information on local beaches is now more available and accessible than ever before.

Before you go to the beach, visit the EPA’s Beach Watch Web site at http://www. epa.gov/OST/beaches to check on the environmental condition of the beach you plan to visit. (Alternatively, you can call the public health department at your destination.)

Under the BEACH Act, th EPA is providing $10 million to the states to monitor the condition of state waters and make that information available to the public.

When public health or environmental officials determine that the water is contaminated, they may either post warnings that the water is not safe for swimming, or close the beach for some period of time.

If you are concerned about raw sewage being released into America’s waters, please help us by asking authorities if they are monitoring waters at the beaches where you live or visit and for a common sense explanation of the results of those tests.

If you think that the water may be contaminated, or if you have become sick within a few hours after swimming, please tell the local public health and/ or environmental authorities. It is very important that they be quickly informed so that they can head off any outbreak of disease and protect especially vulnerable populations.

The key, of course, is to prevent such pollution from occurring in the first place. First, find out if the local wastewater treatment plants have had any sewer overflows and where that sewage goes if it happens. Tell local public health and environmental officials what you have found.

If a beach monitoring program does not yet exist for those places where you swim, get involved! Tell your friends, neighbors, and elected or appointed officials how important this issue is and that EPA is providing grants to the states specifically for this purpose. Help them to set up a beach water quality monitoring and protection program.

You or someone you hold dear will be at the beach this summer. Let’s work together to ensure that a trip to the beach isn’t followed by a trip to the doctor or the emergency room.

 

 

 

 

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