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231 Beach Pollution Advisories in Texas in 2009

For Immediate Release

AUSTIN – As thousands of Texans flock to beaches along the coast, Environment Texas reported that beach closings and advisories due to pollution dropped last year to 231 days, according to the Natural Resource Defense Council’s Natural Resource Defense Council’s
20th annual beach water quality report.  Environment Texas called for increased federal funding and strong EPA rules for reducing stormwater pollution.

Across the country, there were more than 18,000 closing and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches in 2009, confirming that our nation’s beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk. Meanwhile, as of July 23 the oil disaster had already led to 1,755 days of beach closing, advisories, and notices in the Gulf region this year. So far, 117.65 cubic yards of tar balls have washed ashore Texas beaches.

“When families head to the beach this summer, they shouldn’t have to worry about swimming in polluted water that can make them sick,” said Kara Byrom, an organizer with Environment Texas. “We applaud the General Land Office for the Texas Beach Watch notification effort that helps to protect public health by giving beachgoers easily accessible information about water quality.”

Texas is conducting an unparalleled outreach campaign about its beachwater quality monitoring program, including a new and expanded Texas Beach Watch website that allows users to see real-time data on beach conditions in Nueces County. The Texas Beach Watch program strives to raise public awareness, educate citizens about the sources of debris, and generate public support for state, national and international action to clean up coastal waters.

Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report, Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, confirms that our nation’s beachwaters continue to suffer from serious contamination – including human and animal waste – that can make people sick. The report tallied 231 beach closing and health advisory days in 2009 in Texas, a 27 percent decline from the year before. It was the second year in a row of a decline in advisories, primarily due to the severe drought from which Texas suffered.

The report also provides a five-star rating guide for 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches, based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency, and public notification of contamination. In Texas, ten beaches were highlighted for best practices, including two beaches on South Padre Island which received four stars. 

“Sewage and runoff pollution in our beachwater is preventable,” said Jon Devine, senior NRDC water attorney. “With investment in cost-effective, smarter water practices that are available today, communities can tackle the most common sources of pollution lurking in the waves.”

Stormwater is created when heavy rainfall flows over our driveways, sidewalks, rooftops, highways and parking lots – collecting pollutants, including petroleum, heavy metals, animal waste, chemicals and construction debris. In coastal areas where stormwater is discharged directly to surface waters, the contaminants it picks up as it makes its way to the ocean can result in contaminated beachwater. In other cities, with combined sewage treatment plants, stormwater and sewage both go to the plant to be treated. When there is a heavy rain, the amount of stormwater can overwhelm the system resulting in a discharge of raw or partially treated sewage.

Nationally, seven percent of beachwater samples violated health standards – indicating the presence of human or animal waste – showing no improvement from 2008 or 2007.  In Texas the percentage of health standard exceedances decreased to 5 percent in 2009 from 6 percent in 2008 and 9 percent in 2007. Texas ranks 16th in the nation for its beachwater quality testing.

In Texas most of the beach closing and advisory days were caused by unknown sources of contamination, which were responsible for 71% of advisories. Stormwater was responsible for 24% of exceedances.

Beachwater 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, neurological disorders and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal.

“The best way to protect swimmers from beachwater pollution is to prevent it. To protect our beaches we need to reduce the amount of stormwater created by our cities, increase resources for cities in towns to upgrade their sewage treatment systems, and prevent other threats like oil spills from destroying our beaches,” continued Byrom.

The EPA is in the process of creating new rules for mitigating and preventing stormwater runoff across the country.

“Environment Texas urges the EPA to make strong stormwater rules to reduce stormwater pollution and the make America’s beaches safe for people across the country to enjoy,” concluded Byrom.