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New Jersey Beach Health Is Slipping

Beach Quality
Beach Quality Supporter Stands at Rally In Seabright To Retain Federal Funding For Beach Quality Testing (Ilya Hemlin Townsquare Media NJ)

Summer means heading to the beach, but a new study shows the Garden State’s beaches are becoming an increasingly bigger danger to swimmers.

The report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that New Jersey had 132 closding and advisory days last year, and increase from 109 the previous year- equaling a 29% increase in the number of closings.

The Garden State also ranked 4th in the nation (out of 30 coastal states) for the cleanest beaches according to the report.

That may seem like a positive, however Clean Ocean Action, the Surfrider Foundation, NJ/NY Baykeepers, and other environmental groups gathered in Sea Bright on Tuesday to draw attention to the state’s declining coastal health.

“The state of the bay from last year is pretty clear. Eleven of the nineteen indicators are going down or aren’t improving.” Says Doug O’Malley, Interim Director of Environment New Jersey.

Specifically, the group opposed the Environmental Protection Agencies proposal to cut funding for the entire National Beach Monitoring Program.

John Weber, Northeast Regional Manager of the Surfrider Foundation says “If there’s no funding then essentially this report doesn’t happen next year because states aren’t out there testing the waters.”

Furthermore Clean Ocean Action Director Cindy Zipf points out that while the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services is responsible for updating many of the statewide beach regulation, they have been mired down in making any decisions.

“The Department [of Health and Senior Services] has not updated those rules for twenty one years. The last time they updated them was 1991.”

Numerous environmental groups are pushing for faster testing methods for determining beach contaminations. Currently many beaches are tested on Monday’s and are required to have two consecutive days of unsafe bacteria levels for the beach to be closed.

While many municipalities in Monmouth County place advisory notices online there are no notices put up in the towns.

Environmental groups are pushing for faster “same day” tests which would allow scientists to determine the safety of beaches significantly quicker, preventing the possibility of illness.

“The bill right now requires that you can have up to 48 hours to notify the public if there’s been a sewage release, and by then we know people are in the water.” Says Debbie Mans, Executive Director of the NY/NJ Baykeeper

“Pollution in recreational waters nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers including stomach flu, skin rashes, eye, ear, nose and throat infections, diarrhea, and other serious health problems.” Stated Heather Saffert, Staff Scientist, Clean Ocean Action.

Seventy nine percent of the closings and advisories were pre-emptive and were done due to rainfall and other known problems with bacteria levels. Seventeen percent were done due to testing results showing an elevated level of bacteria and five percent were due to sewage spill or overflowing manholes.

Three percent of New Jersey’s samples exceeded the present standards, up from 2% the previous year.

Ocean County was the worst offender with Monmouth County behind it. Beachwood Beach West, Brick’s Windward Beach and Point Pleasant Beach’s Maxon Avenue beach in Ocean County and Highlands’ Rec Center and Belmar’s L Street beach in Monmouth County were all the state worst.

Storm water runoff was considered largely to blame by many environmental groups during the rally on Wednesday. O’Malley attributes the storm water runoff to the problems the Shore has with overdevelopment. Noting the impervious ground in the counties contributes to pollution of the watershed.

“While we can’t control rainstorms we can control development in aging infrastructure, but we didn’t for too long and increasingly we’re paying the price for that.”

Additionally Mans notes much of the sewage also comes from the Combined Sewer Outfalls (CSO) that are present in the middle and northern counties of the state. According to Mans, the state has 30 CSO permit holders with 254 outfalls discharging 23 billion gallons of untreated waste water annually.

“These discharges contain plastic, sanitary, and even medical waste that can wash up on our beaches, sometimes leading to closure.” Says Mans.

Weber stresses that while New Jersey’s legislators are in support of continuing the water testing, other states aren’t so it is important that supporters make their voices heard.

“Over seven thousand of just our members and supporters have taken action, wrote their elected officials and said restore this funding.”

He adds while beach testing is very much a federal issue, keeping local watershed’s clean is something that municipalities can address.

“We need to locally be on top of those things, we have our state and federal officials in the right place. We need to get our local officials on that.”

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