Friday, August 04, 2006

Swimming Water Hysteria Part II

And here is the Testing the Waters 2006 report on beach water quality. Notable from the report:

1- 14,602 days of beach closings were due to elevated bacteria levels of unknown origin. (Or over 50% of the reported closings.)

2- The report only seems to include ocean front beaches along with beaches on the Great Lakes. Why is this notable? Because it fails to include smaller swimming areas- lakes, rivers, ponds and the like. Watching the news in my home state of Connecticut, one often hears of closings of swimming areas at various state park lake swimming areas. I was unable to find any specific numbers, but it's important to keep in mind that these small swimming areas close too- and usually not because of either sewage or stormwater runoff, as a lake in the middle of protected forest doesn't have such concerns.

I make this point because the report focuses on man-made causes of pollution to a fault. Even the brief section on pollution from water fowl blames that pollution on the loss of wetlands and other habitats, as if birds have no business congregating on the beach.

This report cites increased beach closings, but it's possible that increased closings are partially related to increased monitoring, or an increased number of precautionary closings. That's just a guess, but the report gives us only the raw numbers with no basis on which to judge whether there is really a problem statistically.

And finally, as I alluded to above, less than half of these closings can be attributed to man made causes. From personal experience in the water testing business, virtually all the beach closings I've been involved with are due to natural causes. The report would like to find fault with something we've done, but that not be the case. After all, nature can be a dangerous place- it's loaded with bacteria.

So again, I question whether this crisis really exists, or has just been manufactured by the NRDC and spoon fed to media and the various PIRG groups around the country. More importantly, for everything the report tells us, I wonder whether 1- there are any real solutions to this perceived problem, and 2- whether there are any economically feasible solutions to these perceived problems.

Updated 8/4/06 @ 12:30 AM : More dishonesty from the report- The updated bacteria standard should be more protective than the current EPA standard which allows 19 illnesses per 1,000 saltwater swimmers, and 8 illnesses per 1,000 freshwater swimmers. Just as I told you below, no mention is made of the costs associated with lowering this standard. Now of course, the current standards are somewhat arbitrary- any of these sorts of standards are. Obviously we don't want people to get sick- but an absolute zero standard would likely lead to every single beach in the country shutting down. And obviously, lower standards would be better. But the report just tosses out "lower standards" with no discussion of the feasibility of such a recommendation.


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