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Tuesday, July 29th 2008 Christy McGillivray, Clean Water Action
Michigan Beach Closings Hold Steady at 4% in 2007
Closings Hit Second Highest Level Nationwide; Great Lakes Region Shows Highest Level of Contamination
DETROIT, MICHIGAN (July 29th, 2008) – Beach closings and warnings due to bacterial contamination remained steady in Michigan, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council's annual report released today by Clean Water Action.
The report "Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches," tallied water quality samples exceeding Michigan's standards for bacterial contamination, and documented a 4% average in samples that violated public health standards—a number that has held steady between 2006 and 2007.
Nationally, seven percent of beachwater samples violated health standards, showing no improvement from 2006. In the Great Lakes region as a whole, 15 percent of beachwater samples violated those standards – the highest level of contamination of any coastal region in the continental U.S. (The full report is available at www.nrdc.org.)
"Beachgoers shouldn't be swimming in animal and human waste," said Christy McGillivray, Campaigns Director for Clean Water Action. "We acknowledge work being done in Michigan to reduce beachwater pollution and protect public health. However, there is more that we should be doing to protect all beachgoers around the Great Lakes."
"We have data showing that the pollution that fouls our beaches comes from sewers, septic systems, agricultural sources, and stormwater runoff from roads and buildings. Poorly planned development on our coasts has paved over wetlands and other vegetation that filtered polluted stormwater and helped cut down on sewage overflows."
"These problems are preventable," she added. "for example, some storm drains dump near swimming areas. It would be a lot safer to swim if municipalities used soil and vegetation to capture and filter stormwater at its source, and prioritized upgrading their aging sewer systems."
For the first time this year, the report gives a five-star rating guide for a selection of the most popular beaches in the nation. The star rating criteria is based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency, and use of health standards to protect beachgoers. Neither the top beaches, those receiving all five stars, nor the worst beaches, those receiving one star or none, were located in Michigan.
Local elected officials applaud the work that the NRDC does to protect public health. "Here in Macomb County, we are working to improve water quality monitoring, and we echo the NRDC's call to substantially increase federal funding to clean up sewage and stormwater pollution" said Sarah Roberts, Macomb County Commissioner and member of the Macomb County Water Quality Board.
Aging and poorly-designed sewage and storm water systems hold much of the blame for beachwater pollution. The report's authors also say that sprawl development in coastal areas is devouring wetlands and other natural buffers such as dunes and beach grass that otherwise would help filter out dangerous pollution before it reaches the beach.
Not only are the beaches polluted, the way they are tested is also failing the American public, according to NRDC public health and water experts. Beach water quality standards are more than 20 years old and rely on outdated science and monitoring methods that leave beachgoers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses including 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.
"What this report means for families heading to the beach is they need to be careful and do a little homework," said Stoner. "Call your local public health authority and ask them if the beachwater is safe for swimming. If there is any doubt, or if the water smells bad or looks dirty, stay out of it."
Beach Protection Act bills now pending in Congress would provide money for beachwater sampling and require use of faster testing methods so people get timely information about whether it is safe to swim. As of July 28, 2008 the Beach Protection Act had not received the 60 necessary Senate votes that would move it forward.
NRDC is also offering beachgoers an opportunity to discuss their personal favorite beaches. To post a comment, visit NRDC's Your Oceans website –www.youroceans.org, where you also will find fun summer tips for having a safe and healthy time at the beach this summer season.
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Clean Water Action—a grassroots citizens' organization with over 235,000 Michigan members working locally, statewide, and nationally to protect our environment, health, economic well-being and community quality of life. www.cleanwateraction.org/mi
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has 1.2 million members and online activists, served from offices in New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Beijing.