EPA Recommends New Recreational Water Quality Criteria to Better Protect Public Health

EPA announced in the November 29 Federal Register that it has recommended new recreational water quality criteria for states that will help protect peoples’ health during visits to beaches and waters year round. These new criteria replace criteria established in 1986.  The science-based criteria set out measures to protect against gastrointestinal illnesses from fecal contamination.  They provide information to help states improve public health protection by addressing a broader range of illness symptoms, better accounting for pollution after heavy rainfall, providing more protective  recommendations for coastal waters, encouraging early alerts to beachgoers and promoting rapid water testing. The criteria are a tool that states can use in setting their own standards; and, States may adopt the criteria directly or use their own scientifically defensible numbers that provide equal protection. The criteria provide states and communities with the most up to date science and information that they can use to determine whether water quality is safe for the public and when to issue an advisory or a beach closure. EPA made the announcement pursuant to an order from a U.S. District Court and as required by the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act of 2000.
The strengthened recommendations include:

  • A short-term and long-term measure of bacteria levels that are to be used together to ensure that water quality is properly evaluated.
  • Stronger recommendations for coastal water quality so public health is protected similarly in both coastal and fresh waters.
  • A new rapid testing method that states can use to determine if water quality is safe within hours of water samples being taken.
  • An early-alert approach for states to use to quickly issue swimming advisories for the public
  • Tools that allow states to predict water quality problems and identify sources of pollution, as well as to develop criteria for specific beaches.

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