Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Public Notification of Water Quality Results

The below article discusses the inconsistencies in public notification of beach monitoring results between three counties in New Jersey. There are similar inconsistencies nationwide, with some states posting or closing a beach after one bad (high bacteria) sample, and others only taking action after a second bad sample – often 2-3 days after the original sample. In California, although beaches are posted with health advisories after one bad sample, beaches are only closed if there is evidence of a sewer spill, regardless of the bacteria level. Other states, including New Jersey (except Monmouth County) and Florida only take action after a second sample. That action also varies by state – closure in NJ, an advisory in FL.

Water quality monitoring a top priority as rain gives way to clearing at beaches

Monmouth to post advisory if first test shows pollution; Ocean won't do same


It's a near picture-perfect day as the crew aboard the single-prop Cessna airplane looked for trouble in the

ocean below.

Outfitted with a light-based sensor to detect algae, which can cloud the water and lead to fish kills, the plane

gently cruises over the surf off Monmouth County.

As the plane flies past Manasquan Inlet, Virginia Loftin, a state research scientist, spots some floating trash

near the southern end.

"I don't know where that might have come from,'' said Loftin, a longtime state Department of Environmental

Protection staffer who oversees the state-county-local beach water monitoring program. "There's always

the possibility that some boater dumped his garbage.''

In some areas along the coast, the water looks foamy or brownish, perhaps from algae or churned up


Overall, Loftin said the water "looks OK.''

With the 2010 beach season arriving this weekend, officials are monitoring the waters and hope oil from the BP

spill in the Gulf of Mexico doesn't spoil the summer.

There's a slight chance that oil could appear, probably in the form of tar balls, according to experts.

Meanwhile, both environmental activists and officials say beach-water quality in general depends on the

weather, with rainfall boosting pollution from runoff.

Again this year, Monmouth County will take the extra precaution of posting warning signs at beaches at

the first hint of pollution. But officials in Ocean and Cape May counties don't plan to follow Monmouth's lead.

Instead, they will follow state rules that call for two tests over 48 hours before action is taken. In short, this

means unwary swimmers risk exposure to harmful bacteria and viruses that can make them sick.

The most common illness from polluted waters is gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and

intestines that can cause vomiting, headaches and fever. Other minor illnesses include ear, eye, nose and

throat infections.

Martin Connie, principal registered environmental health specialist in the Atlantic City Health Department, said

he likes the idea of posting an advisory sign after one high count, and it would be considered.

Patricia Diamond, health officer in the Atlantic County Division of Public Health, said the oceanfront area

covered by the division has never gotten a second high bacteria count. But the division would ban bathing at a

beach after one high count if it believes there is a pollution problem, according to Diamond.

Late last summer, officials in Monmouth County began posting their own advisory signs at beaches after an

initial test showed high levels of fecal bacteria, indicators of potentially harmful pollution, in the water.

"That's, of course, what we've been calling for for years, and it's nice to see that it's finally happening,'' said

John Weber of Bradley Beach, a surfer and northeast regional manager for the Surfrider

Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group. "It's definitely more protective of the public health.''

William Simmons, environmental health coordinator in the Monmouth County Health Department, said the

four health agencies in the county that began posting signs last summer "got nothing but positive feedback from

the public.''

Activists want state officials to better protect beachgoers from polluted water and increase monitoring. Officials say

they're working on amendments to state rules and looking into additional monitoring.

In Monmouth County last year, officials closed various beaches to swimming a total of 114 times,

according to the DEP. If, for example, five beaches were closed just for a day, that would count as five lost

beach days.

Nearly all of the swimming bans … 108 … were precautionary after rainfall at four beaches near the ocean outfall from polluted Wreck Pond in Spring Lake and Sea Girt.

In Ocean County, no ocean beaches had to be closed to swimming due tobacteria.

But a beach in Long Beach Township was closed for three days as a precaution after a pleasure boat sank,

releasing debris, according to the DEP. And an Island Beach State Park beach was closed for a day as a precaution

after an unarmed torpedo washed up.

Some of the many bay beaches in Monmouth and Ocean counties were closed for a day a total 56 times last

year, largely because of high bacteria levels or as a precaution following rain.

Beachwater testing

Under the state-coordinated Cooperative Coastal Monitoring Program, county and local health

officials take ocean, bay and tidal river samples on Mondays and results come back the next day.

If levels of fecal enterococci bacteria hit more than 104 per 100 milliliters of water at a beach, officials take more

samples and results come back in 24 hours. If bacteria levels remain high, officials close the beach to swimming

until counts drop.Last year, four health agencies in Monmouth County asked the state Department of Health and Senior

Services to amend its rules covering beachwater testing to allow officials to post advisory signs warning of pollution.

The agencies include the county health department, Monmouth County Regional Health Commission No. 1 and the Long Branch and Middletown health departments.

Agency officials thought a 48-hour wait to close a beach was too long, said Simmons, of the county health


In July, the DEP said state health department rules do not prohibit local health agencies from posting

advisories at bathing beaches.

Loftin, the DEP research scientist, said it's up to county and local health departments to decide whether to post

advisory signs. But the DEP supports health agencies that choose to do so, she said.

In Ocean County, however, officials do not plan to post advisories at beaches after getting initial high

counts of bacteria, said Leslie Terjesen, county health department spokeswoman.

"We follow the (state) code,'' she said. "We don't close the beaches. The municipalities close the beaches'' after

two days of high counts.

Meanwhile, the state health department has "not yet offered local health departments any guidance on

the upcoming beach season but plan to do so before the season begins,'' according to spokeswoman MarilynRiley.

As of last week, the department had not issued any guidance.

The department's goal is to propose rule amendments by late summer or early fall, she said in an email.

Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, a Sandy Hook-based environmental coalition, said "The

program we have right now is woefully inadequate. The old rules can literally make you sick because.... They're not

providing full information in a timely manner.''

This story originally published First

In Print in the May 30, 2010 edition

of The Sunday Press.

Todd B. Bates: 732-643-4237;; www.twitter.


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