New Jersey Beach Closures & Advisories in 2009
Groups Support Federal Bills and Make Recommendations to Improve Beach Water Quality
Sandy Hook, NJ – The 20th annual report, “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Beach Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” prepared by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), identifies the beaches in our area and across the country have pollution problems, and those that tested clean. The report, released locally in New Jersey by Clean Ocean Action (COA) and Environment New Jersey, provides information about beach closures in 2009 and makes recommendations for reducing pollution and protecting public health. For the full report, go to www.nrdc.org/ttw/.
Polluted water at many American beaches jeopardized the health of swimmers last year with the number of closing and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches reaching more than 18,000 for the fifth consecutive year. While the report found an 8 percent decrease in nationwide closing and advisory days at beaches from 2008, it reveals this decline was the result of dry conditions in certain areas and decreased funding for water monitoring in some states last year, notably in California, rather than a sign of large-scale improvement.
“Polluted water is making ocean users sick and the Surfrider Foundation has started to collect that information using the website www.njoceanillness.org,” said John Weber, Northeast Regional Manager of the Surfrider Foundation. “By gathering and tracking this data we can determine what kinds of illnesses are prevalent and potentially identify hot spots.”
In 2009, New Jersey monitored 15 fewer sites than in 2008 for a total of 245 beaches: 218 designated bathing beaches and 27 non-designated beach stations on a weekly basis. In Ocean County, additional samples were collected at 10 beaches following storm events in 2009 to further document stormwater pollution and to develop provisional rainfall closures. More storm sampling is happening again this summer in Ocean County.
In New Jersey, the 2009 ocean and bay beach closures were as follows:
180 total days of closures, a decrease from the 208 days of closures in 2008 of which 117 were due to criminal medical dumping event.
128 days (71%) were preemptive closings (without waiting for testing results) due to heavy rainfall that is known to cause high bacteria and pollution problems at 6 beaches. This was 62 days more than in 2008 due to rainy weather.
41 days (23%) of closings were a result of direct monitoring the revealed elevated bacteria levels. Nine of these closings were at ocean beaches and 32 were at bay beaches.
11 days (6%) were preemptive due to other reasons.
Closures in NJ are only issued when two samples exceed the state standards when beaches are lifeguarded. No advisories or closures are issued for the non-designated beach stations and these sites are not re-sampled, even though several of these beaches are used by the public.
NRDC’s report provides a 5-star rating guide for 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches. The highest beach ranking in NJ is 3 out of 5 due to old state policies. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends closures or advisories after one-day sampling; instead, New Jersey is one of only a few states that takes another sample the next day before issuing a closure or an advisory, thereby extending the time the public is potentially exposed to pollution.
Last August, Monmouth County led the way in NJ by issuing advisories after one-day sampling and is the only county in the state to do so this year. “The Monmouth County Health Department takes a proactive approach in its efforts to protect the public health from waterborne diseases at ocean and bay recreational bathing sites, by posting advisories based on initial bacteriological sample results rather than waiting for a second confirmatory sample that exceeds the standard requiring closure of the beach,” stated Michael Meddis, the Public Health Officer of Monmouth County.
In 2009, NJ ranked 14th nationally, where the first is cleanest, for its 5 % exceedances of state’s fecal bacteria standards. Atlantic and Cape May counties have had the lowest exceedances with 1 % or less. However, there were serious problems in several areas with 14 beaches that had 20 % or greater exceedance rates. Most of these beaches are in NJ’s back bays and estuaries. There also continue to problems at the Wreck Pond outfall (which is incorrectly listed as beach in the report).
“While many ocean and bay beaches are testing clean, there are areas with chronic problems that need to be further investigated and sources cleaned-up,” Heather Saffert, Staff Scientist, Clean Ocean Action. “Stormwater management needs improvement and aging infrastructure problems need repair. Clean coastal waters benefit marine life and are important for NJ’s families and tourists to enjoy the beach.”
“Developers are loving the Shore to death, and beach-goers are still paying the price. Our beaches are being shut down because of the run-off pollution from sprawl,” said Doug O’Malley, Field Director for Environment New Jersey. “We need to put the brakes on pollution from over-development – or else the Shore’s ecological alarm bells will only get louder.”
Federal Bills to Improve the Nation’s Beach Water
Many of the environmental groups’ recommendations are contained in the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health (CCEPH) Act which was passed by the House of Representatives the summer of 2009. The Senate bill is still pending. The prime sponsor of Senate Bill (S. 878) is Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg; Sen. Robert Menendez is a co-sponsor. The prime sponsor of the House Bill (H.R. 2093) is U.S. Representative Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-D-6); the co-sponsors from New Jersey are Reps. Steven Rothman (NJ-D-9) and John Adler (NJ-R-3). The Act reauthorizes the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) of 2000 and would increase support for beach water protection programs and identification pollution sources. The senate version provides funding to not just find, but also to cleanup the sources. While both versions promote the use of rapid testing methods to detect beach water contamination, the senate version has a faster time requirement that would result in prompt notification of public health risks. These tests that take 2 to 4 hours are now available, but not yet nationally approved by the EPA.
“There is nothing better than summer at the Jersey Shore, and part of what makes that special is the health and vitality of our beaches,” said Representative Pallone. “Our beaches are not only a state treasure but also a vital source of income and pride for the state, which is why I have introduced the Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act of 2009, which will help ensure that beachgoers throughout the country can surf, swim, and play on clean and safe beaches. I will continue to pursue this and other policies to protect the environment and I’m glad for the strong coalition of support this effort has in New Jersey shown by today’s event.”
Update on Improving the State Bathing Rules
In response to COA’s and NJ’s environmental groups’ call on the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services to update the public recreational bathing rules, a committee process which COA participated in revised the rules last fall. However, these changes have yet to be finalized and additional improvements are still needed.
“Knowledge is power; people have the right to know if they may be exposed to fecal contamination and the sooner the better,” said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action. “Updates to the state rules are needed to protect public health and increase awareness of pollution. Action is pending on Federal bills that are also critical. The bills will require all states to comply with new testing methods, require track down of any suspected sources, and mandate swift reporting of polluted beaches. Combined, the law once passed will bring testing and notification into the 21st century,” added Zipf.
Know Before You Go…In
The NRDC report and other resources, including the national overview and frequently asked questions, can be found at: www.nrdc.org/ttw/. For information on the latest beach closings in New Jersey, call the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s beach closure hotline at 1-800-648-SAND or visit www.njbeaches.org (ocean and bay beaches).