EPA publishes study on Surfside Beach water quality - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

EPA publishes study on Surfside Beach water quality

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By Jennifer Grove - bio | email

SURFSIDE BEACH, SC (WMBF) -  It has now been more than a year and a half since the Environment Protection Agency set up shop on Surfside Beach to conduct a water quality study and the results are finally back in black and white.

"I do think that most people have forgotten about it and what the final outcome actually was," Surfside Beach resident Mary Joe Doggett shared.

All the Doggetts knew was that the EPA was looking to test the relationship between possible pollutants in the water and beach goers getting sick.

"We were simply asked if we were interested in doing a survey and how long we were planning on being at the beach," Doggett said.

The study came with a price tag of one million dollars and was aimed at improving the EPA's water testing abilities and the timeliness of notifying the public of any health hazards.

"I heard from them several weeks later asking if I had developed any symptoms from being in the water," Doggett said. "But then I never heard anything back as to the results of the survey."

The final report published in December of 2010 came to a total of 449 pages.

"Four hundred pages," Bill Doggett exclaimed. "There wouldn't be a whole lot of people reading it."

"I think they owed it to us to let us know the results," his wife shared.

"I don't know if anybody that has even seen it unless I checked with an environmentalist or something," Bill added.

The Doggetts say they would like to see the town receive some kind of briefing on the results.

"We would hope that they would share that with us," Mayor Allen Deaton echoed. "We were only one component. We were honored for them to do the process here in Surfside."

"I think maybe the town should pursue it and say 'Look, a lot of our residents took part in this and they're asking questions'," Doggett suggested.

At this time the EPA says they have not received a request for a briefing of the results by the town of Surfside Beach, but say they would be happy to provide a briefing. They say the study is available to the public.

[National Epidemiologic and Environmental Assessment of Recreational Water Epidemiology Studies PDF.doc]

The Environment Protection Agency says the goal of the study at Surfside Beach was to measure water quality and illnesses at a beach site that had no known sources of human pollution. They determined that any pollution likely came from "urban runoff". The site was chosen because such beaches are not well studied and there is debate about what the risk of illness is at these beaches compared to beaches that are impacted by human waste.

"From what I understand in the executive summary the water was clean most of the time [so] it was hard for them to find anything to study really," Mayor Allen Deaton recalled.

According to the EPA report, illness rates for gastroenteritis, skin rash, earache, and respiratory illness were very similar to that seen at other beaches across the United States. There was little consistent evidence of elevated illnesses, and correlations between levels of water quality and illness symptoms among swimmers could not be established. Only one day exceeded the current EPA recommended guidelines for criteria values.

Due to the good water quality, there was little consistent evidence of elevated risks among swimmers, and correlations between illnesses and water quality could not be established.

The study was conducted on 29 days during the summer of 2009. 11,675 beach goers participated and completed telephone interviews, and over 1000 samples were collected and tested for indicators of water contamination using both traditional, and new, faster approaches.

EPA says they have conducted dozens of studies to establish the scientific foundation for new or revised recreational water quality criteria protective of swimmers in waters designated by a state for primary contact recreation. The goal of the study is to establish a health-based relationship between indicators of fecal contamination and swimming-associated illness using novel and faster testing methods.

This study may help inform new or revised recreational water quality criteria. Such criteria could include new and faster ways to measure water quality. Right now it often takes up to 24 hours for test result and notifications to be complete in order to warn beach goers of potentially harmful water conditions. New approaches could result in more timely notifications about adverse water quality conditions across the country.

This study demonstrated that despite good water quality, the new methods of water quality testing performed well and such approaches could be used at beaches that lack a known point source of pollution.

The new or revised criteria EPA will develop by October 2012 will replace the current criteria recommendations issued in 1986 and will be used by states in their adoption of new water quality standards.

In the mean time, the town of Surfside Beach says they are doing what they can to minimize bacteria levels in the storm water outfalls along the town's waters.

"We've worked very hard with our storm water process, a six million dollar project," Mayor Allen Deaton shared. "We were very confident that what we were doing was working and I believe that the results have shown that."

"They're trying to clean up the lakes, I'll give them that," Bill Doggett said.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control. Results were presented last year at a Regional Beaches Conference meeting to the State of South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control and other State agencies.

The study cost approximately 1 million dollars, which included interviewing of beach goers, water sample collection and testing, collection of other environmental conditions.

The EPA says the study at Surfside Beach was one of two sites they conducted to meet requirements of a lawsuit brought by the NRDC.

EPA was sued by NRDC in Federal District Court for the Central District of California for failing to complete all required studies on pathogens and pathogen indicators in coastal recreation waters by 2003, and, to publish new or revised recreational water quality criteria by October 2005 as statutorily required by the Beaches Environmental and Coastal Health Act of 2000, also known as the BEACH Act.

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