Although dozens of South Florida beaches undergo routine testing for water pollution, the beaches that pass may not be as clean as they seem, according to a coalition of environmental groups.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, Clean Ocean Action and several other groups filed a formal notice of intent this week to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for imposing what they say are lax water-quality standards that allow people to unknowingly swim in polluted water.
They say the EPA's standards allow for an averaging of test results, with the effect that water could exceed bacteria limits in up to 10 percent of tests without triggering a violation. The standards focus only on gastrointestinal illnesses, failing to test for pathogens that could cause rashes and ear, eye and sinus infections. And the standards set for gastrointestinal illnesses would allow up to 36 people per 1,000 to get sick.
"Too many of America's beaches are sick -- and they're passing on their illnesses to families across the country," said Steve Fleischli, water program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But EPA is not doing its job to help make sure we are safe when our families head to the beach."
The EPA on Friday said, "We will review the lawsuit and respond accordingly once it's filed."
Beaches are routinely tested for bacteria that comes from human and animal waste, which can lead to illnesses such as salmonella, shigellosis and hepatitis A. The sources of pollution are typically rain washing animal waste into the water, sewer leaks or improperly treated sewage.
The vast majority of the 48 beaches tested in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties pass the EPA tests. When they exceed bacteria limits, the Florida Department of Health issues a swimming advisory.
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