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Testing the waters at Brooklyn’s shore - Latest report provides bathers with a snapshot of ‘frolicking’ conditions

Health advisories at select Brooklyn beaches totaled 30 last year—and that’s a marked improvement compared to statewide results, a recent report revealed.

Beach advisories or closings across the state increased 21 percent to 1,547 in 2007, up from 1,280 in 2006, according to the report, released last week by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York-based non-profit organization.

Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the report, “Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches,” showed the number of closing and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches nationwide was more than 20,000 for the third consecutive year.

“Some families can’t enjoy their local beaches because they are polluted and kids are getting sick – largely because of human and animal waste in the water,” said Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC’s clean water project.

The data confirms “that our nation’s beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk,” the report stated.

Each advisory in Brooklyn was a preventive measure, precipitated by rainfall or combined sewer overflow, according to the report.

On advisory days, typically after a rainfall, beachgoers are informed that contaminant levels may be higher.

Combined sewer overflows occur when rainfall overtaxes an aged sewer system, resulting in the combination of stormwater runoff and sanitary sewage, which bypasses treatment plants and flows to the nearest body of water.

“Aging and poorly-designed sewage and storm water systems hold much of the blame for beachwater pollution,” the report states.

Advisories were issued at Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach, Manhattan Beach, and at Kingsborough Community College, according to the report. Each advisory can span several days.

Fourteen percent of water samples taken from Gerritsen/Kiddie Beach exceeded the state’s daily maximum bacterial standards, the report showed. No other beach in the borough had bacterial samples that exceeded more than five percent. Statewide, the percent of samples exceeding the maximum increased to 11 percent in 2007, from nine percent in 2006.

Across the state, 51 percent of closings and advisories were pre-emptive, due to rain; 26 percent were due to elevated bacteria levels, and 18 percent were due to sewage spills. Six percent were from “unknown sources,” and five percent were from “unspecified sources of contamination.”

The report found that closing and advisory days nationwide due to sewage spills and overflows more than tripled to 4,097 from 2006 to 2007, but the largest known source of pollution continues to be contamination from stormwater, which caused more than 10,000 closing and advisory days.

What this report means for families heading to the beach is they need to be careful and do a little homework, said Stoner. “Call your local public health authority and ask them if the beachwater is safe for swimming. If there is any doubt, or if the water smells bad or looks dirty, stay out of it.”

—Gary Buiso

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