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Federal Bill Would Speed Testing of Beaches for Pathogens

Kalbird1 Faster testing of swimming beaches for bacterial pollution could be on the way. That would be healthy news for beachgoers in the Chesapeake Bay region and nationally, who now must wait a day or longer  before knowing if the water they swam in had disease-causing pathogens. 

The U.S. House yesterday approved a bill called the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act that would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop a test by 2012 that would allow swimmers to be alerted to high bacteria levels within hours of sampling, according to a report in this morning’s Los Angeles Times.

The House legislation would also provide $40 million to develop these tests.  A similar bill in the Senate would provide $60 million. But the Senate version has not yet been voted on, and so the fate of the entire proposal remains unclear.

The problem of a long lag time – often 24 hours to 48 hours, or more -- between testing for bacteria at swimming beaches and the availability of results to the public was highlighted in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s recent report, “Bad Waters 2009: The Impact on Human Health in the Chesapeake Bay Region.”

According to The Los Angeles Times, legislators are considering addressing this issue as they debate a broader package of bills that would help water quality nationally.  “A House-approved bill would provide $2.3 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, which helps state and local agencies pay for projects such as upgrading aging sewage-treatment plants and preventing runoff of polluted water. A bill headed to the Senate would provide $2.1 billion. About $689 million was provided this year. Lawmakers also are considering the Sewage Overflow Community Right-To-Know Act, which would require treatment plants to alert the public to sewer overflows.”

Meanwhile, the Natural Resources Defense Council this week released its annual “Testing the Waters” report about beach pollution nationally. 

The report found that there were more than 20,000 swimming days lost nationally to pollution-related closures or no-swimming advisories at beaches in 2008, a 10 percent decline from the previous year.  But the study suggests that decline was in part due to less rainfall, and record high closings the previous year.

The NRDC report gave one beach in the Mid-Atlantic region a five-star rating for healthy waters: The Ocean City beach, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  But this beach is on the Atlantic Ocean, not the Chesapeake Bay.

I put a link to this Bay Daily article on the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Facebook site, and asked readers if they favor or oppose federal legislation to require faster testing of swimming beaches. Seven people responded, and many thought the money would be better spent in preventing pollution, instead of monitoring. Others questioned whether faster tests would be accurate.

Here are the responses:

* "Stop the fertilizer, polluted runoff, and dog poop from getting into the waste water in the first place!"

* "My son works for the county testing beach waters, and it takes over 24 hours for the bacteria in the samples to grow, and thus to be counted!"

* "Disagree. Spend time & money going after the big, repeat polluters. Quicker tests can only mean less reliable tests."

* "We need to be able to play in our waters!!!!"

* "A lot of bacteria, like fecal coliform, can not be read for at least 24 hours, so any sooner would not give accurate results. Unless there is a faster test I do not know of."

*  "Put that money to cleaning up the Bay!"

* "That is one of their problems, they spent to much money as it is."


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Why do we need a new federal law? Right now for an example A.A.County could go out and test beaches and/or rivers after a rain, however, they mearly post a notice on their web site saying do not swim after a rain of 1/2 inch or more and elect not sample. Go to South River Federation web site and one can see from the data the impact of rain on water quality, i.e. bateria.

We know what the proble is, we know where to problems are coming from, and MDE/Couty environemtnal officals just elect not to sample.

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