Environment America Research & Policy Center releases revised report on water pollution at beaches

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John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

John Rumpler

Clean Water Director and Senior Attorney, Environment America

New version of study answers queries that led to revisions

Environment America Research and Policy Center

BOSTON – Following questions raised about data in the original version of our “Safe for Swimming?” report released Tuesday, July 23, Environment America Research & Policy Center is rereleasing its study about fecal bacteria in waters off U.S. beaches. A reanalysis of the data by our research partner Frontier Group shows similar top-line nationwide findings about beach safety. However, the reassessment showed some significant data errors at the local level in several states. Frontier Group has corrected those mistakes for this revision.

In total, 2,580 of 4,523 beach testing sites nationwide (57 percent) had water pollution levels on at least one day last year that exceeded an EPA threshold designed to protect the health of swimmers, according to corrected data in the report. Of those, 546 locations were potentially unsafe on one-quarter of the days tested. The study looked at fecal contamination at beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states as well as Puerto Rico.

Significant changes occurred in state and regional results, resulting from correction of two errors in the analysis.

“We made mistakes last week, and we’re deeply sorry for that and the confusion that those errors caused,” said Frontier Group Managing Director Susan Rakov, whose group did the report’s analysis on behalf of Environment America Research & Policy Center. “As a research group with more than two decades of experience, we take pride in our track record of accuracy and clarity, but we did not live up to our standards. We are also grateful to those who reached out to us with the concerns that led us to correct the errors.”

Frontier Group released a more detailed statement on its website.

The revised numbers still reinforce the initial version’s overall finding: Be careful at your local beach this summer because the water might be unsafe. The report includes several recommendations to prevent bacterial pollution and keep our beaches safe for swimming. Rain barrels, rooftop gardens, permeable pavement and urban green space can all absorb stormwater runoff and prevent sewage overflows. Congress is now considering legislation to increase funding for such “green infrastructure” projects through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

“We take our role as an organization dedicated to protecting the places we love and advancing the environmental values we share very seriously,” said John Rumpler, Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Clean Water Program director. “Every American should be able to go to the beach and swim without worrying about the water’s impact on their health or that of their children and we remain firmly committed to that goal.”