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Source: New York Times

Report Finds L.I. Beach Plagued By Pollution


Posted: July 30, 2009
Originally Published: July 29, 2009

In a regular New York summer, local beaches — from Coney Island in Brooklyn to Great Kills Park on Staten Island — offer a welcome relief from the broiling concrete and airless humidity of the city.

This year of course the weather has failed to swelter. But for those determined to brave the chill and head to the seaside, a report released on Wednesday reveals where it might be best to avoid.

The Natural Resources Defense Council produced a five-star rating guide for 200 of the most popular beaches in the United States — based on indicators of beach water quality, monitoring frequency and public notification of contamination.

The poorest rating in New York State went to Zach’s Bay, at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh on Long Island.

Sarah Chasis, director of the council’s Oceans Initiative, revealed the findings on Wednesday morning at a news conference at Water Taxi Beach –- a Lower Manhattan watering hole where the sand is real but few patrons choose to dip in the East River.

Adrienne Esposito, the executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, also spoke at the conference. “Zach’s Bay,” she said, is “greatly loved, except for the fact that the Jones Beach sewage treatment plant discharges into the embayment area.”

Lawrence M. Levine, a lawyer with the council, added that in terms of measured pollution levels and number of days with advisories or closures, Douglaston Manor, a small private beach in Queens, was the worst in the city.

New York’s and New Jersey’s popular beaches received poor to mixed reviews. None received more than three stars.

The report also claims that beaches were closed or advisories were issued 1,818 times in New York and New Jersey in 2008 because of water quality concerns.

“Summer trips to the beach are an American tradition –- one that should not be ruined by pollution,” Ms. Chasis said in a statement. “Our beaches are a place for fun and relaxation, not swimming in sewage and polluted storm water.”

According to Chris Boyd, assistant commissioner for environmental sciences and engineering at the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the authorities assess beaches throughout the summer.

“We begin monitoring the water quality at all our beaches at least one month prior to their opening,” he said.

The only city beach not to be tested every week in season is Rockaway, he added.

Tests results are available 24 hours after a sample arrives at the laboratory. If the water quality fails to reach a standard set by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, then officials will close the beach.

If heavy rain threatens to overwhelm drains and wash untreated sewage into the ocean, the authorities will also issue a notice recommending against swimming.

Mr. Boyd said that in New York a model developed by HydroQual is used to decide if rainfall is sufficient to demand an advisory.

According to the report, the number of times beaches were closed or advisories were issued nationwide in 2008 fell to 20,341, from 22,571 in 2007.

However, Ms. Chasis said the decrease was a not the result of large-scale improvements.

Instead dry conditions limited sewage run off in many parts of the country and some states also decreased financing for water monitoring, she said.

Rae Zimmerman, a professor of planning and public administration at New York University, said that in order to improve beach water quality planners needed to lessen run off after heavy rain and limit sources of pollution.

“You want to reduce the amount of impervious surfaces,” she said.

But Professor Zimmerman added that the authorities were sometimes overzealous with advisory notices.

“Removing people in a heavy rainfall may be conservative,” she said.