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Source: The Journal News

Region's beach water quality ranks poorly in annual survey


Posted: July 29, 2010
Originally Published: July 29, 2010

NEW YORK — New York ranks seventh-worst in the nation for beach water quality, but Westchester County continues to be better for public swimming than Long Island or New Jersey.

Stormwater runoff and sewage overflow are the main culprits, causing 1,955 closings and health advisory days in the New York-New Jersey region last year, according to the 20th annual beach assessment announced by the Natural Resources Defense Council on Wednesday.

"New York and New Jersey are home to some of the country's most popular beaches, but each summer they continue to be plagued with bouts of sewage and stormwater pollution," said Sarah Chasis, director of NRDC's Oceans Initiative. "We need to stop using the ocean as our dumping ground and prevent this type of pollution from reaching our shores and risking our health."

Under the federal BEACH Act, states regularly test their beach water for bacteria found in human and animal waste. These bacteria indicate the presence of pathogens. When beach managers determine that contamination exceeds health standards — or in some cases when a state suspects levels would exceed standards, such as after heavy rain — they notify the public through closures or advisories.

Westchester beaches, all on Long Island Sound, accounted for 230 closing-advisory days. Hudson River beaches were not included — only Croton Point Park is open to the public.

Long Island, by comparison, had more than three times that many closings or advisory days in 2009.

The NRDC, an organization dedicated to protecting public health and the environment, uses government data on beach-water testing from May to September of the previous year at more than 560 New York and New Jersey beaches, as well as 3,000 beaches nationwide.

The report confirms that in the summer of 2009, the nation's beach fronts continued to suffer from serious contamination — including human and animal waste.

Beach-water pollution makes swimmers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses, including stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments and neurological disorders, among other serious health problems.

"Long Island beaches were closed or under advisory for 888 days in 2009, a 10 percent increase from 2008," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

NRDC's report issued five-star ratings for 200 of the most popular U.S. beaches, based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency, and public notification of contamination.

In the New York-New Jersey region, no Westchester beaches had enough attendance to make the list, and none of the local beaches that did received more than three stars because they all failed to always issue advisories promptly after exceeding a health standard or to test more than once a week.