EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

November 26, 2012

EPA strengthens water-quality guidelines for nation's beaches

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency updated water-quality guidelines for the nation’s beaches Monday, in response to charges that the federal government has not done enough to protect swimmers from polluted water.

The new guidelines, which update standards issued in 1986, may not immediately mean safer beaches and coastal waters. States have authority to set their own water-quality standards.

But federal environmental officials said they hoped the suggested guidance would prompt state leaders to toughen their oversight of recreational waters where people swim, surf and go boating.

One set of new standards parallels recommendations issued 26 years ago for acceptable concentrations of Enterococci and E. coli bacteria, which can cause serious illnesses if ingested.

The EPA issued a second set of standards with lower recommended thresholds for both bacteria.

The tougher guidelines are expected to keep illnesses down to 32 per 1,000 people, compared with 36 illnesses for the previous standard, according to the agency.

The EPA also recommended a more aggressive testing schedule to monitor water quality at beaches.

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