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EPA Launches New England Beach Initiative at Quincy’s Wollaston Beach; Kick Off Includes $260,000 Beach Monitoring Grant for Bay State

Release Date: 06/27/2002
Contact Information: Andrew Spejewski, EPA Press Office, 617-918-1014

BOSTON - Flanked by state and local officials at Quincy’s Wollaston Beach, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Robert W. Varney today announced a Clean New England Beaches Initiative that includes $1 million in federal funds for improved beach monitoring, an increased focus on pollution assessment work, and designating nearly a dozen “Flagship” beaches across the region that will serve as models for improving beach water quality.

The initiative comes on the heels of 274 New England saltwater and freshwater beaches being closed at least one day last summer due to pollution. The closings totaled more than 750 beach-days, including more than 100 days on Cape Cod and 24 days at Wollaston Beach.

“While our waters are dramatically cleaner than they were 20 years ago, we still have too many beaches in New England that are closed too many days in the summer due to pollution,” Varney said. “This situation is unacceptable, especially at high-use urban beaches such as Wollaston Beach which was closed nearly one of every three days last summer. Today’s Clean New England Beaches Initiative will help improve these beaches, making them safer, cleaner and more enjoyable for millions of New England swimmers.”

In announcing the campaign, Varney awarded a $260,000 EPA grant to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MA DPH) to help improve its beach monitoring and assessment program. The grant is among more than $1 million being awarded this year to New England’s five coastal states for their beach monitoring programs. The funding was made possible by the Federal Beach Act approved by Congress in 2000.

“We look forward to working with our federal, state and local partners to provide safe and healthy beaches,” said Dr. Howard Koh, commissioner of the MA DPH. “These new funds will allow us to identify effective pollution reduction strategies at these flagship beaches.”

“This grant is another example of the federal, state and local teamwork which will result in a more informed public, better water quality and a greater recreational experience for our citizens,” stated David B. Balfour, commissioner of the Metropolitan District Commission.

Varney also announced the selection of Wollaston Beach as one of three Flagship beaches in Massachusetts, the other two being Provincetown Harbor Beach and selected Salem City Beaches.

“Wollaston Beach is the perfect place to focus our attention,” Varney said. “It has one of the best monitoring programs in the country, and the City of Quincy and the Metropolitan District Commission have committed significant resources to improve the beach. I think we’re going to be able to see real improvement here, which is good news for the many urban residents who enjoy Wollaston.”

Under state law, swimming beaches must be closed, or advisories posted, when levels of indicator bacteria – which indicate the presence of fecal contamination – are too high. Polluted runoff and untreated sewage released into the water can contain bacteria, viruses and protozoans, some of which can cause minor illnesses such as gastroenteritis or more serious diseases such as hepatitis. Runoff can be contaminated from pet waste, wildlife, illicit connections and various other sources. Sources of sewage include leaking sewer pipes, failing septic systems, boats, and combined sewer overflows.

EPA’s Clean New England Beaches Initiative includes the following five elements, all aimed at reducing pollution at coastal beaches:

    • provide federal beach grants to boost water quality monitoring, pollution assessments and public notification about water quality
    • provide technical assistance - and, where appropriate, enforcement support – to local and state agencies to identify and reduce pollution sources, focusing primarily on non-point pollution sources
    • identify high-use “Flagship” beaches in each of the region’s coastal states for targeted attention through enhanced beach monitoring, assessments and pollution management
    • promote high-quality monitoring, assessment technologies and information sharing through a newly-created state/federal Beach Work Group on Closures and Monitoring
    • boost public involvement and education about water quality issues at coastal beaches
“These actions will improve monitoring at coastal beaches and improve public awareness about swimming conditions,” Varney said. “We’ll also see more pollution sources being eliminated, resulting in safer and cleaner beaches.”

The $260,000 grant awarded today to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will be used to improve state programs and to fund programs to assist towns and other agencies who manage public beaches. The programs will focus on improving the quality and frequency of water quality testing and ensuring prompt notification to the public when swimming conditions are unsafe

“Flagship” beaches were selected by each state as good models for other beach managers to learn from. All parties – federal, state, and local – have committed to reducing and eliminating closures due to pollution at the flagship beaches and distributing the lessons that can be learned from them. The selected beaches serve large populations; historically have had closures due to pollution; demonstrate high-quality beach monitoring and management practices, and show strong potential to effectively use state and federal resources to reduce closures.