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Beach monitoring criteria: reading the fine print

January 1, 2011

Beach monitoring programs aim to decrease swimming-related illnesses resulting from exposure to harmful microbes in recreational waters, while providing maximum beach access. Managers are advised by the U.S. EPA to estimate microbiological water quality based on a 5-day geometric mean of fecal indicator bacteria (FIB) concentrations or on a jurisdiction-specific single-sample maximum; however, most opt instead to apply a default single-sample maximum to ease application. We examined whether re-evaluation of the U.S. EPA ambient water quality criteria (AWQC) and the epidemiological studies on which they are based could increase public beach access without affecting presumed health risk. Single-sample maxima were calculated using historic monitoring data for 50 beaches along coastal Lake Michigan on various temporal and spatial groupings to assess flexibility in the application of the AWQC. No calculation on either scale was as low as the default maximum (235 CFU/100 mL) that managers typically use, indicating that current applications may be more conservative than the outlined AWQC. It was notable that beaches subject to point source FIB contamination had lower variation, highlighting the bias in the standards for these beaches. Until new water quality standards are promulgated, more site-specific application of the AWQC may benefit beach managers by allowing swimmers greater access to beaches. This issue will be an important consideration in addressing the forthcoming beach monitoring standards.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2011
Title Beach monitoring criteria: reading the fine print
DOI 10.1021/es202568f
Authors Meredith B. Nevers, Richard L. Whitman
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Environmental Science & Technology
Series Number
Index ID 70032481
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Great Lakes Science Center