Environmental Protection

New Water Testing Could Prevent Beach Closures

A new study by the USGS involves a rapid water-quality test that provides accurate same day results of bacteria levels, which could help prevent beaches from being closed.

With increasing outbreaks of waterborne illnesses, beaches have been at the forefront of recent research on human health risk. This new rapid water-quality test, developed by the EPA, will help managers across the country determine whether beaches are safe for swimming in order to keep the public from getting sick. Previous tests could not provide same-day results, which caused many beaches to be closed until the results were available.

USGS scientists analyzed the accuracy of EPA’s rapid test by looking at past water quality data from five beaches along Lake Michigan to determine what the outcomes would have been if the rapid test was used. These findings were then compared to two older methods of testing which require 24 hours for results. Scientists discovered that results from the rapid test met EPA’s safe swimming criteria more often than the older tests.

“This study provides beach managers with a virtual “test drive” of this tool; it gives them an idea of what they can expect in terms of beach monitoring decision making,” said USGS scientist Meredith Nevers. “Our research shows that EPA’s rapid test can be an effective tool for beach managers to help keep their recreational beach goers happy and safe.”

If this method had been used during the study period examined, the summers of 2009 and 2010, it may have prevented hundreds of beach closure days and possibly significantly decreased incidences of waterborne illnesses.

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