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E-M:/ Michigan Beach Closings Down but Still Significant Problem



PRESS RELEASE
Embargoed Until:                For more information, contact:
July 24, 2002, 10 AM EST        Clean Water Action, Cyndi Roper, 231-861-0950 or
                                in SE Michigan: Brad Wilson, 586-783-8900
                                PIRGIM, Megan Owens, 734-662-6597


Michigan Beach Closings Down but Still Significant Problem

Despite a recent decrease in closings of Michigan beaches, which could be
related to dryer weather or other temporary factors, pollution-related beach
closings are still a significant problem. Michigan had 119 beach closings in
2001, including 3 closings that lasted for over 2 months each, according to the
Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) 12th annual beach report released in
Michigan today by Clean Water Action and PIRGIM.

NRDC’s annual report, Testing the Waters 2002, found that in 2001 93% of
Michigan’s public beach closings were due to monitoring that revealed elevated
bacteria levels. Stormwater was listed as one of the sources of pollution for
89% of the closings and 86% listed sewage as a source. Nationwide, high
bacteria levels, indicating the presence of human or animal waste, prompted 87
percent of the closures and advisories nationally in 2001.

A recent review by Clean Water Action (CWA) of Michigan’s 2002 beach monitoring
and closings revealed that:

· While the availability of the state’s beach closing website is a
step in the right direction, the information on the website is outdated and, therefore,
does not help beach-goers make informed decisions. For example, much of the
underlying data reflects 2001 conditions, and, at best, the remaining data is
at least a week old (with only a few counties posting data from the current
week’s testing). The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) relies
on receiving timely data from county/regional health departments, but there is
no mandate that this data be provided to state officials.

· Although both the US EPA and MDEQ have recommended standards for beach
testing, there are still no mandatory uniform monitoring standards and
monitoring frequency requirements, which leaves most beach-goers uninformed
about the water quality at their favorite beaches. Even a systematic review of
Michigan’s beach closing website left CWA reviewers in the dark about the
details of nearly all beach monitoring programs.

· A number of counties are waiting for the state to fund their beach
monitoring programs instead of proceeding in the interest of the public’s
health. Several of these counties had been awarded grant dollars through the
state’s Clean Michigan Initiative, but officials indicated that these funds
were withheld as a part of the state’s recent budget cutting measures.

· Ironically, the state’s beach closing website showcases the P. J.
Hoffmaster State Park in Muskegon, but reviewers discovered that this beach is
apparently not being monitored. In fact, although CWA reviewers could not
verify this information on-line, apparently the only Muskegon County beach
slated for monitoring if state funds are not received is Pier Marquette. While
the Muskegon County’s slogan is “Catch the Wave,” beach-goers might catch
something else if they visit the county’s beaches.

According to the 2001 data, 57% of Michigan’s beaches (which were reported to
the EPA) were monitored at least once a week, including beaches in Bay, Benzie,
Berrien, Macomb, St. Clair and Wayne counties. Forty one percent were not
monitoring at all, including Alpena, Cheboygan, Manistee and Marquette county
beaches. Two percent were monitored occasionally, including beaches in
Charlevoix and Wayne counties.

CWA reviewers compiled current data about public beach monitoring and closing
efforts on a county-by-county basis in Michigan’s shoreline counties. “We
really don’t know what’s happening at our public beaches, and we certainly
don’t know quickly enough to protect ourselves from sewage and other
contaminants in the water,” stated Cyndi Roper, CWA’s Michigan Director. “There
are serious data gaps in virtually every shoreline county, which make it
impossible to convey in a timely fashion information about beach safety to
Michigan beach-goers.” Roper noted that this problem could be helped by a CWA
initiative that should become law later this summer. House Bill 4719, sponsored
by State Representative Patty Birkholz, resulted from a previous CWA research
effort into sewage overflows and associated beach closings. The bill, which
would require officials to disclose on-site whether or not monitoring has taken
place at the state’s public beaches, cleared both the House and the Senate and
is currently awaiting Governor Engler’s approval.

Bush administration reneges on beach pollution protection
A national law passed in 2000, the BEACH Act, encourages states to establish
monitoring programs for beach water quality and promptly warn the public if
harmful bacteria levels exceed health standards. States have to meet EPA
standards under the law to receive federal funding for their beach monitoring
and public-notification programs. The law also requires all coastal states to
adopt, by 2004, EPA’s health standards for beach water quality or standards
that are equally protective of public health.

Although EPA has not issued final guidelines for implementing the BEACH Act,
there is concern that the monitoring provisions and recommended standards will
not be strong enough. Of those surveys reporting a cause of closures and
advisories, the most frequent contaminant is storm water runoff, which caused
more than 3,715 closures or advisories nationwide last year. In response to an
NRDC consent decree, EPA is required to set minimum technology standards for
controlling storm water runoff from construction and development. However, just
last month, the Office of Management and Budget gutted EPA’s proposed
standards.

“After OMB’s handiwork, EPA’s proposal now violates the law and would allow
storm water to further degrade our rivers, lakes and coastal waters,” says
Megan Owens, PIRGIM Field Director. “Storm water is the largest identified
source of coastal water pollution in the country.”

Another leading cause of beach closings in Michigan is the 50-plus billion
gallons of bacteria-laden raw sewage discharges coming from combined and
sanitary sewer overflows. Although Michigan has requirements that sewage
treatment plants notify the public, MDEQ, and county health officials when
overflows occur, there is no requirement that beaches be closed in a
pre-emptive fashion or that treatment plants report to MDEQ within a day or two
the magnitude and composition of overflow events.

Brad Wilson, CWA’s Macomb County Organizer critiqued current beach monitoring
approaches. "If health officials are serious about protecting the public, they
must stop using current monitoring approaches because they are too slow,” said
Wilson. “Instead, they must be proactive in shutting down beaches when
overflows occur, and they must quickly learn as much as they can about the
overflow to protect the public from exposures to sewage, PCBs, mercury, lead,
arsenic and other contaminants. Further, they should either use monitoring
devices that provide quick results and/or rely on models that can predict when
contaminants will reach our beaches.”

The groups also explained that voters will have the chance in November to
approve a statewide sewer bond, which would help repair and upgrade sewers and
manage stormwater on-site before it reaches either sewer or stormwater pipes.
# # #

PIRGIM is a non-profit, non-partisan environmental and consumer advocacy group
with 10,000 members across Michigan (www.pirgim.org).

Clean Water Action is a national citizens’ organization working for clean, safe
and affordable water, prevention of health-threatening pollution, creation of
environmentally-safe jobs and businesses, and empowerment of people to make
democracy work. Clean Water Action has more than 60,000 Michigan members who
are served by three Michigan offices (www.cleanwateraction.org).

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of
scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting
public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000
members nationwide served from offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Los
Angeles and San Francisco. (www.nrdc.org).