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Testing the Waters: Are the Nation's Beaches Safe?

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A bill is pending before Congress that would establish national health standards for beach waters, adds Nancy Stoner, JD, director of NRDC's Clean Water Project. The bill enjoys widespread support, she says. However, new federal rules to at least eliminate the sewage discharges that continue to contaminate popular beaches are being held up by the Office of Management and Budget despite President Clinton's earlier promise to help eliminate the problem, she says.

"We can control the pollution from these sources," Stoner says. The key is to pass regulations that prevent raw sewage from hitting beaches, and place it in sewage plants where it belongs, she says. Considering that coastal waters support about 28.3 million jobs and generate about $54 billion in goods and services, this would also make good economic sense, she notes.

Still, regular monitoring can get expensive. For example, the average cost of monitoring beaches in 1998 was approximately $1,138 per mile of beach with the cost in some places such as California topping $4,000 per mile. But the question is not one of just economics, Stoner observes. Even under the current EPA standards, a total of 19 people per 1,000 swimmers can be expected to contract stomach infections, she says.

Until better practices and standards are in place, there are several actions beach goers can take to protect themselves and their local beaches, Chasis says. These actions include calling ahead to find out the condition of the beach prior to going swimming, as well as helping conserve these environments by conserving water and using outdoor chemicals in a sparing and responsible way, Chasis says.

"We can all make our beaches safe, and the investment is worth it," she says.

 

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