EPA Tightens Beach Pollution Monitoring

Since the 2012 release of the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial Recreational Beach Water Quality Criteria, Heal the Bay, the NRDC and a coalition of environmental groups have been working with the EPA on aspects of implementation. While we had significant reservations about  the lowered standards for allowable beach pollution, our policy team has been offering input on how to strengthen overall public health protection and notification measures.

The 2012 criteria recommend the use of more protective standards for determining when to notify the public about health risks at chronically polluted beaches. The EPA may have developed these so-called Beach Action Values, or BAVs, but the government agency did not require their use.

Well, after months of lobbying, we received a bit of good news this week.

The EPA’s new Beach Guidance Document makes a better effort to incentivize the use of BAVs. To access federal funds for regular beach monitoring, states will have to employ more protective BAVs when making decisions to post beaches or even close them temporarily because of bacterial pollution.

This is a big win for public health protection. The document does include a high-bar exception for states that can scientifically justify use of a different threshold. We hope that California and other coastal states will recognize that the more protective BAV value is the only justifiable approach for adequate public health protection.

While EPA’s action is a big win in protecting the future health of beach-goers, more federal support is needed to broaden the scope of the BEACH Act. The act mandates regular monitoring of all coastal beaches in the U.S. for levels of bacterial pollution. With more than 180 million visits each year to American beaches, it’s simply time to invest in more protective and consistent monitoring. A day at the beach should never make anyone sick.