IMAGE: SIGN WARNING SWIMMERS AT BEACH
Reed Saxon  /  AP
A sign warns people not to swim in the outflow area that leads to the Pacific Ocean at Will Rogers State Beach in Los Angeles. At a press conference at the beach Thursday, the Natural Resources Defense Council said it was suing the Environmental Protection Agency, alleging it had failed to protect beaches across the country from pollution. Will Rogers is also on the annual NRDC list of dirty beaches.
msnbc.com news services
updated 8/4/2006 1:05:32 PM ET 2006-08-04T17:05:32

An environmental group has sued federal regulators, charging that they failed to protect beaches and the Great Lakes from pollution and that negligence by the Bush administration exposed swimmers and surfers to potential illnesses.

The lawsuit, filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council in U.S. District Court on Thursday, charged that the Environmental Protection Agency failed to protect the public against the “substantial adverse health effects” from contact with contaminated beach-water.

In 2000, Congress passed a law requiring the EPA to update its beach-water health standards by 2005. The agency missed the deadline and current standards are two decades old, according to court documents.

The lawsuit was filed on the same day the group issued a report that found beach closings due to hazardous bacterial contamination in Los Angeles County jumped 50 percent in 2005.

Across the nation, beaches were closed or posted with health advisories 20,000 times last year, a five percent increase over 2004, the report said.

Factors at play
Better monitoring might explain part of the increase, the group said, but heavy rain flushing pollutants and more coastal development were probably factors as well.

But the group argued that even the beaches that were deemed safe may be hazardous because the EPA has failed to update beach water quality standards, which are 20 years old.

The EPA was supposed to update its standards by October 2005 but says it will be unable to finish the process until 2011, the NRDC said.

The NRDC listed these states and beaches as having violated federal public health standards at least half the time samples were taken as part of its annual report on beaches:

  • California: One beach in L.A. County: Will Rogers State Beach (Santa Monica Canyon). Six beaches in Orange County: Aliso Beach, Crystal Cove State Park, Doheny State Beach, Newport Bay (Santa Ana Delhi), Newport Beach (Buck Gully), and Salt Creek Beach Park. One beach in San Diego County: Imperial Beach. One beach in Ventura County: Rincon Creek.
  • Florida : Shired Island in Dixie County.
  • Georgia: Kings Ferry in Chatham County.
  • Illinois: North Point Marina in Lake County.
  • Louisiana: Bogue Falaya Park in Covington.
  • Maryland: Three beaches in Rock Hall: Bay Country Campground and Beach, Ferry Park, and Rock Hall Beach.
  • Massachusetts : Cockle Cove Creek in Chatham and Sandy Beach in Danvers.
  • Michigan: Singing Bridge Beach in Arenac County.
  • Minnesota: Clyde Avenue Boat Landing Beach in West Duluth.
  • Rhode Island: Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett.
  • South Carolina: Pirateland-Lakewood Campground in Myrtle Beach.

Overall, the NRDC found that 8 percent of beach water tested failed to meet federal health standards.

“Those violations are pretty good indications that the beach water was contaminated with human and animal waste, and that beach goers were either swimming in that waste or banned from doing so due to the health risks,” the report said.

New Hampshire and Delaware had the cleanest beaches, with their beaches found to be dirty just 1 percent and less than 1 percent of the time, respectively.

Beaches OK, EPA says
EPA spokesman Dale Kemery did not address the lawsuit, but said in a statement “the state of the nation’s beach health remains high, even as the number of beaches monitored increased by 11 percent in 2005.”

The agency “has made significant progress in carrying out its responsibilities under the” 2000 law, he said.

The lawsuit asks the court to order the agency to complete the water-quality studies and publish revised safety rules.

The pollution comes from a wide mix of sources, including animal waste, factories, septic tanks, sewage, pesticides and oil and metals deposited on city streets.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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