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New Jersey Beach Act Aims for Faster Results on Bacteria Tests

The public would get speedier water-quality test results under revamped Beach Act legislation touted by federal lawmakers at the gazebo in Pier Village.

Tests results would be made available to the public in a couple hours under the new measure, compared with up to two days under prevailing testing methods.

“Clean, safe and healthy beaches are vital to our state’s economy and give beach goers the peace of mind they need to enjoy this incredible resource,” said U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.

The Beach Act, established in 2000, set national water-quality standards and provided states with grants to test water quality and notify the public when conditions are unsafe.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that up to 3.5 million people become sick from contact with raw sewage from sanitary sewer overflows each year.

Pallone and late-Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., were the authors of the original bill. Pallone and Sen. Robert Menendez, D- N.J., said Thursday they will introduce the Beach Act of 2015 when Congress returns from recess in September.

Supporters of the law have pushed for same-day testing in the re-authorization, so beach goers can find out about bacteria levels before they go the beach.

Current water-quality monitoring tests take 24 to 48 hours to produce reliable results, during which many beach goers can be unknowingly exposed to harmful pathogens, officials said.

“The Beach Act is one of the most important laws protecting our beaches but it is now 15 years old, and needs to be updated to require faster testing and reporting, tests after storms, and permanent funding,” said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action.

The re-authorization legislation mandates the use of rapid testing methods by requiring EPA to approve methods that detect water contamination in two hours or less, so that beaches can be closed shortly thereafter.

Under the Beach Act, the EPA is required to work with states to ensure they use the latest science to sample and test beach waters to protect the public’s health.

If tests come back positive for contaminants the state is then required to close the beach until it is clean. The law also helps states set up and operate comprehensive monitoring and notification programs in order to provide up-to-date information on the condition of all public beaches.

“The Beach Act is really about accepting our responsibilities as stewards of our incredible coastal environment,” said Menendez. “And, it’s about making sure that if you’re spending a day out on the water and bringing your family to the beach, you’ll never have to question whether the water is safe enough for your children to swim.”

Each summer, tourism at New Jersey's beaches produces $36 billion in economic activities and supports nearly 500,000 jobs.

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