In an effort to provide states with stronger guidance, the Environmental Protection Agency this week issued its first new recreational water quality standards since 1986. The Florida Department of Health (DOH) currently tests water at beaches around the state. The tests detect concentrations of certain bacteria that indicate the presence of human or animal waste, which could carry a variety of harmful pathogens. The new EPA beach standards come in response to a lawsuit from the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups against the agency for failing to comply with a Congressional mandate to update its recreational water quality guidelines.
The new guidelines are voluntary, although they are typically followed by state health departments. The guidelines offer a choice between two levels of protection: one that indicates a risk of illness to 36 per 1,000 people, which is the current standard, and a more stringent level that would indicate a risk to 32 per 1,000 people. The EPA stated that both options would provide sufficient protection, but the agency was trying to give states maximum flexibility to make a risk management decisions.
In Florida, funding for beach testing remains uncertain, in large measure due to the announcement that federal aid to states would be eliminated. The Florida Department of Health has already reduced its funding for water testing which means less frequent testing on a fewer number of beaches.
For more information or questions, please contact FAC Environmental Advocate Stephen James.