Thursday, April 22, 2010

Collecting Information on Ocean Illness in New Jersey

The Jersey Shore Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has recently added an ocean illness form to their website to complement their BWTF water testing program. Joe Mairo, a Surfrider member and high school biology teacher that leads one of the Chapter's student run water testing programs, speaks to the local media about the new website and the chapter's experience with local incidences of illness caused by exposure to polluted water. Story below.

By MaryAnn Spoto/The Star-Ledger

April 20, 2010, 5:31PM

WRECK POND -- It started with a small cut on his right leg.
A day after he went surfing in Asbury Park, Joe Mairo’s leg began to swell. Two days later, he was in the hospital with a serious staph infection.
Although Mairo has no proof, he can’t help but wonder if the cloudy water in which he was surfing that October day last year caused his infection.
For decades, surfers like Mairo have long suspected they’ve contracted all kinds of illnesses from their exposure to high levels of fecal coliform. Now they want to document their experiences on the internet to try to prove their theory.
"I remember sitting in the water and thinking ‘this is gross,’" the 32-year-old Bradley Beach resident said. "All those variables are out there for what I had, so it makes me a little unsure. (But) there are other cases where it’s really clear-cut."
Mairo said he can’t definitively link his illness — which turned out to be a MRSA infection — to the ocean water because he worked out at the same high school gym where wrestlers also had the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection.
But Mairo, a biology and environmental science teacher at Wall Township High School, said some of his students have had more convincing cases, including ear infections or nausea almost immediately after surfing.
As part of the class curriculum, Mairo and his students conduct water-quality testing on samples taken from the ocean in Sea Girt and Spring Lake near an outfall pipe that flows from nearby Wreck Pond. The pond has had so many instances of high levels of fecal coliform that the state Department of Environmental Protection automatically closes beaches near the pond in the summer after heavy rainfalls as a precaution.
The students’ testing, conducted during the months the local health departments don’t test, occasionally have shown high levels of the bacteria.
"We definitely see when water temperatures are up and we get a rain, the bacteria levels are high," he said.
So Mairo suggested the Surfrider Foundation, of which he is a member, start a website at to collect the experiences of surfers and other people who suspect they’ve gotten sick from exposure to high fecal coliform levels.
With the website, the group will be able to determine whether any patterns emerge and present the evidence to state and local officials, said John Weber, the foundation’s East Coast regional manager.
To weed out phony stories, the donors have to identify themselves and be willing to testify to their experiences, Mairo said.
Weber said the advocacy group has heard anecdotes for years about surfers’ illnesses, from sore throats to ear infections and even worse, but noted there haven’t been any attempts to document them
"State and local health departments aren’t collecting it, so the (New Jersey) chapter is going to,’’ he said.

Friday, April 16, 2010

SAMOHI's Team Marine Students win Ocean Hero Award in Sancramento

Congratulations to the Team Marine students for a job well done educating their peers, community and political leaders on the importance of water and environmental issues. Team Marine participates in the West LA/Malibu Surfrider Chapter's Teach & Test Program. The following story describes their Ocean Hero Award and their field trip to the State Capitol.

On April 5th, during Spring Break, nine students on Santa Monica High School's Team Marine (Melanie Delia, Valerie Wacker, Megan Kilroy, Eileen Flores, Devany Garcia, Danny Franco, Raphael Mawrence, Jacob Hassett, Kou Collins) traveled by van to Sacramento to be part of Ocean Day at the California State Capitol Building on March 6. Representing the youth, the students met with various assembly members, senators, and staff to support different bills that would reduce plastic marine debris and curb carbon dioxide emissions. They also encouraged state officials to establish a comprehensive network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that follow the scientific guidelines and draft new legislation that would make environmental sustainability a core subject in k-12 grade levels. The students also had a chance to lobby alongside various environmental organizations, including Heal the Bay.

That evening, Team Marine attended a formal reception and sustainable seafood banquet with numerous state officials and ocean advocates and was given an Ocean Hero Award by a California steering committee composed of CalCoast, Environment California, Heal the Bay, the NRDC, Ocean Conservancy, San Diego Coastkeeper, and Surfrider Foundation. Lester Snow, Secretary for Natural Resources welcomed the students that evening, and Mike Chrisman, a director for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and former Secretary for Natural Resources presented the award to the students for their many contributions toward protecting the marine environment. Returning home along the coast, Team Marine visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium and camped in beautiful Big Sur.

Valerie Wacker of Team Marine commented, " We were honored to be recognized by such important people. We were the only ones there who were under 30, and we were treated like adults."

Jacob Hassett of Team Marine remarked, "Being on Team Marine and receiving this prestigious award has made me realize that this generation of youth may have the gift that can change the world."

Raphael Mawrence of Team Marine stated, "Being in Sacramento with my peers was one of the most memorable experiences of my life and showed how the youth can make the greatest impact of all."

Coach Benjamin Kay said, "For both the students and us mentors, the experience was a crash-course in how state government operates, and we all learned so much. The students were very well received by all state officials, and it reinforced the importance of people voicing their opinions to their representatives."

Team Marine is an environmental science-based eco-action group of teens dedicated to raising awareness about sustainable solutions to the global climate, energy, and plastic pollution crises through scientific research, educational outreach, community service, pop art and culture, multimedia, social networking, and community partnerships. Team Marine is a former winner of the QuikSCience and Edison Challenges, Generation Earth's Most Sustainable Project Award, August R. Veenker Award, The Climate Community Citizen of the Week, and the My Better Lifestyle Award given by the Los Angeles Lakers and East West Bank. For more information, please see the students‚ website or their blog.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Re-authorizing the BEACH Act

The BEACH Act of 2000 is the federal law that sets national standards for recreational water testing and authorizes state grants to pay for beach monitoring programs. This landmark law was first championed by Surfrider Foundation a decade ago. In the past three years, multiple attempts to reauthorize the BEACH Act have been made in Congress. The House of Representatives has already approved reauthorization legislation twice now, but proponents of these bills have not been successful in securing a place on the agenda for the full Senate.

The latest bill, the Clean Coastal Environment & Public Health Act of 2009, will increase the amount of federal dollars that can be spent on beach water quality monitoring and will modernize the technology we rely on to protect the health of the beach-going public. It also expands the scope of the BEACH Act to include tracking and cleaning up the sources of beach water pollution.

The original BEACH Act of 2000 is responsible for vast improvements in beach monitoring programs across the country. All coastal states are now operate beach monitoring programs. The BEACH Act set national water quality monitoring and reporting standards and authorizes yearly grants to states for beach monitoring.

Unfortunately, perennial under-funding has prevented full state implementation of the BEACH Act and has left public health at risk in many instances. Although the BEACH Act authorizes $30 million to be awarded to coastal states annually to support their beach monitoring programs, the actual appropriation is usually just under $10 million each year. Because of inadequate funding, many state programs are under-staffed and do not have the resources to meet all of their testing requirements.

Continued reliance on out-dated science also hinders proper implementation of beach monitoring programs. Currently, approved water testing methodologies require a 24 hr lag time before results are available. New water testing methods are available now that can provide water quality information within two hours of sampling, but the EPA has yet to approve any new methods for beach monitoring programs. States are also unable to use their BEACH grants to track and clean-up any sources of beach pollution, so that we could truly see improvements at our beaches.

The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act, HR 2093, was submitted to the House of Representatives by Members Pallone (NJ), Bishop (NY), and Bilbray (CA). Senator Lautenberg (NJ) submitted the companion bill, S 878, to the Senate.

As originally submitted, the Clean Coastal Environment & Public Health Act:

· Reauthorizes the BEACH Act of 2000 for 5 years;

· Doubles the amount of funding available to states, to $60 million, so that a greater number of beaches can be monitored and more frequent monitoring can be conducted;

· Allows funds to be used for pollution source detection and cleanup to prevent future incidences of closings and advisories;

· Requires EPA to approve and states to use rapid test methods for monitoring beach water pollution;

· Speeds up requirements to notify beachgoers immediately after contamination is found;

· Requires public health authorities to notify environmental agencies when contamination is found at the beach; and

· Requires compliance reviews to ensure that state and local programs receiving federal funds are meeting the minimum requirements of the BEACH Act.

HR 2093 was marked up by the House and now it only raises the funding level to $40 million. Language for pollution clean-up has been removed, and a study on the impacts of nutrient pollution has been added to the bill. S 878 has passed out of Senate Committee and is waiting to get on the agenda for consideration by the full Senate.

If you want to help support clean beaches and immediate access to critical water quality information send your Senators an email asking them to support the swift passage of the Clean Coastal Environment & Public Health Act. Just click here.

The full text of both the House and Senate versions of this bill can be found online.

For further reading, an evaluation of the BEACH Act of 2000 by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) can be viewed here.