Aug 07, 2006

NRDC Sues EPA for Failing to Update Obsolete Water Quality Standards

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) announced that it is suing the U.S. EPA for failing to modernize the standards as ordered by Congress six years ago.

Bacterial contamination closed more beaches and prompted more health warnings for the third straight year, according to a report released today by the NRDC. The number of closing and health advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches topped 20,000 in 2005 -- the most since NRDC began tracking the problem 16 years ago.

In this years’ report, for the first time the NRDC evaluated beachwater quality nationwide and found 200 beaches in two dozen states whose samples violated health standards at least 25 percent of the time. In most cases, beachwater was contaminated with bacteria, and beachgoers were either swimming in it or banned from swimming because of the health risks. Overall, 8% of the beachwater samples taken nationwide violated health standards.

According to the NRDC, current beachwater health standards do not adequately protect the public and need to be updated. Therefore, the NRDC has opted to sue the EPA.

"A day at the beach should not turn into a night in the bathroom, or worse, in the hospital," said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project. "There have been significant advances over the last two decades that we should be using to protect beachgoers, but the EPA is dragging its feet in implementing them."

In 2000, Congress passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act), which required the EPA to revise the current health standards by October 2005. The agency missed the deadline, and now says it will not be able to finish updating them until 2011.

The current beachwater quality standards are 20 years old and rely on obsolete monitoring methods and outdated science that leave beachgoers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses. Risks include gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal.

"The pollution that fouls our beaches comes from sewers, septic systems, and storm water runoff from roads and buildings," Stoner said. "Poorly planned development on our coasts has paved over wetlands and other vegetation that soaked up and filtered polluted storm water."

"These problems are preventable," Stoner added. "It would be a lot safer to swim if municipalities used soil and vegetation to capture and filter storm water at its source, and upgraded their aging sewer systems."