May 31, 2006 – Environmental advocates are threatening to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to revise outdated health standards for coastal recreation waters, which are often contaminated by sewage, fecal matter, oil spills and stormwater runoff.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the EPA is in violation the Beaches Environmental Assessment, Cleanup and Health (BEACH) Act of 2000 for failing to meet a deadline to complete health-risk studies and publish revised water-quality criteria.
The EPA does not expect to publish new water-quality criteria until 2011.
NRDC said in relying on old standards, the EPA is failing to warn people quickly enough about contamination; failing to protect people from rashes, ear aches, pink eye, respiratory infections, and from more serious illnesses such as hepatitis and encephalitis or inflammation of the brain; and failing to protect the most vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and those with impaired immune systems.
According to the NRDCâ€™s most recent annual report on beach pollution, the nationâ€™s fresh water, ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches underwent a combined 20,000 days of closings and advisories in 2004, an increase of about 9 percent from 2003. Typically beach-water contamination is caused by bacteria and potentially infectious microbes, but NRDC reported that 73 percent of the 2004 closings were attributed to "unknown sources."
Under the BEACH Act, the EPA was required to initiate and complete studies within three years of the legislationâ€™s passage to assess human health risks and develop stronger methods of detecting recreational water pollution. The Act also required the Agency to publish new or revised water-quality criteria by October 2005.
In a letter to the EPA declaring its intent to sue, NRDC charges the agency with violating the Clean Water Act, as amended by the BEACH Act, in failing to meet statutory deadlines for completing required studies and submitting new water quality criteria,The organization said it will formally file a lawsuit if the EPA does not correct violations within 60 days.