Monday, May 27, 2019

Beach Season is Here

It’s Memorial Day, the traditional launch of swimming season (at least in my hometown). As we arrive at summer beach season, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun awarding grants across 39 states, territories and tribes to develop and implement beach monitoring and notification programs. EPA has a total of up to $9.24 million that they can grant. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said “These grants will increase public information about water quality at our beaches and help our state and local partners conduct testing and address potential sources of contamination.”

Under the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act, EPA awards grants to eligible state, territorial and tribal applicants to help them and their local government partners (in Virginia that is the Department of Health) monitor water quality at coastal and Great Lakes beaches. When bacteria levels are too high for safe swimming, these agencies notify the public by posting beach warnings or closing the beach. Since 2002, state and local governments, territories and tribes have been granted a total of $167 million in to monitor beaches for fecal indicator bacteria, maintain and operate public notification systems, identify local pollution sources, and report results of monitoring and notification activities to EPA.

The Virginia Department of Health operates an online “Swimming Advisories and Monitored Beaches Map” you can check the status of your favorite beech by clicking on the flag marker for the latest sampling date, results of monitored beach sites and information on swimming advisories or beach closures. The flag marker sites are on the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean. Water samples are collected weekly during the swimming season by Local Health Departments and analyzed by local laboratories for enterococci bacteria or the flag marker sites. If bacteria levels exceed Virginia’s Water Quality Standard of 104 colony forming units (cfu)/100 mL of water, a swimming advisory is issued. I clicked on the flag for Fairview Beach in King George County and this is the information from this week. ( It's safe to swim.) 

The Virginia Department of Health advises that you can help to protect your family’s health while swimming at the beach by taking these simple steps:

  • Observe Swimming Advisories; do not enter the water at a beach under a swimming advisory.
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming; natural waters may contain disease-causing organisms that can cause gastrointestinal illness if swallowed.
  • Avoid swimming for a few days after heavy rainfall; bacteria levels are likely to be high and disease-causing organisms are more likely to be present after rainfall due to pollution from land runoff and other sources.
  • Prevent direct contact of cuts and open wounds with recreational water; natural waters may contain disease-causing organisms that may cause skin infections.
  • Avoid swimming in areas where dead fish are present; if you observe a fish kill call the Department of Environmental Quality (703-583-3800).
  • Don’t swim if you are ill or have a weakened immune system; some organisms are opportunistic and may only cause illness when you are already ill or your immune system is weakened.
  • Shower with soap after swimming; showering helps remove potential disease-causing organisms.
  • Avoid fishing piers, pipes, drains, and water flowing from storm drains onto a beach.
  • Do not dispose of trash, pet waste, or dirty diapers on the beach.
Have fun and be safe!

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