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Group Makes Waves for 'Clean and Safe' Beaches

From the WebMD Archives

May 18, 2001 (Washington) -- You've been waiting all year tohit the beach. Beach blanket? Check. Sunglasses? Check.

 

Now check which beaches are the cleanest and safest. The CleanBeaches Council, a nonprofit foundation, today released its list of beachescertified for public safety and environmental quality.

 

Sixty-three beaches in 12 states made the cut. Florida led thesandy pack with 29 beaches on the list. You can check the list at: https://www.cleanbeaches.org/bluewave/default.cfm.

 

The beaches voluntarily agree to abide to a series of"responsible beach management practices," including using EPA waterquality guidelines; keeping algae and other vegetation from accumulating anddecaying on beaches; keeping records of emergency incidents; having a systemfor prompt warnings to the public; and maintaining programs on habitatconservation and erosion management.

 

Certified beaches gain the right to display a "BlueWave" flag and other marks of distinction.

 

Beaches are big, big business. They're the nation's mostpopular tourist destination, the council noted, pulling in 50 million visitorseach year and 85% of all tourist revenues.

 

"The Blue Wave beaches have taken the steps to subjectthemselves to a higher degree of public scrutiny," said council presidentWalter McLeod.

 

But many beaches, McLeod lamented, would "much rather bejudged by a glossy photo that makes it looks very nice and pristine." Thepoint of the Blue Waves initiative, he said, is to help the public see beyondthe glossy photo to the reality of what's going on at a particular beach.

 

Suzanne Giles, water quality program coordinator for theAmerican Oceans Campaign, tells WebMD the council's beach program "isdefinitely a good way to get communities to be proactive." But she adds,"We would very much encourage them to go above and beyond the criteria interms of the monitoring and notification."

 

Runoff and sewage pollution, Giles notes, can lead to suchbeach ailments as stomach problems, hepatitis, skin rashes, eye infections, andear infections.

 

Not everyone is pleased with the council's program. The NaturalResources Defense Council, an environmental group that puts out an annualreport on water quality at beaches, is kicking up a little sand, noting thatbeaches must pay $2,000 to be certified in the Blue Wave program.

 

"They will only look at the beaches that give themmoney," NRDC spokesperson Elliott Negin tells WebMD. "That makes ussuspicious that it's not an objective look at beaches, but merely a club ofbeaches that throw in money."

 

The beach council's certification does involve a randomcompliance "spot check" during high season.

 

Meanwhile, water advocates are concerned about the status ofbeach legislation that President Clinton signed into law last October.

 

The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of2000 requires coastal states to monitor beach water quality and warn the publicwhen beach waters contain dangerously high levels of disease-causingmicroorganisms. The requirements come along with a budget of up to $30 millionannually to help coastal states develop and implement effective water-qualitymonitoring and public notification programs.

 

The law doesn't, however, provide for fines or penalties ifstates fail to act. President Bush, moreover, has requested only $2 million forthe program.

 

"We're very concerned about it," Giles tells WebMD."Two million dollars really isn't going to go very far at all."

 

According to NRDC, just 11 states already monitor and report tothe public on their beaches' safety for swimmers. Those states are California,Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey,North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.