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ACS News Service Weekly PressPac: Wed May 08 16:42:00 EDT 2013

Same-day water pollution test could keep beaches open more often

With warm summer days at the beach on the minds of millions of winter-weary people, scientists are reporting that use of a new water quality test this year could prevent unnecessary beach closures while better protecting the health of swimmers. A study analyzing the accuracy of the test appears in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Meredith B. Nevers and colleagues point out that decisions on whether water is safe for recreational use have been based on tests that actually show the condition of water in the past. Those tests involve sampling water for the E. coli bacteria used as red flags for fecal contamination, putting the samples in culture dishes and waiting to see if any bacteria grow. As a result, managers might close a beach based on fecal contamination that existed in the past, but posed no current threat. Likewise, they might keep a contaminated beach open because the water was clean in the past.

They describe analysis and validation of a new rapid water-quality test that could prevent beaches from being closed by providing accurate, same-day results of bacteria levels. Developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the test’s same-day results could help managers across the country determine whether beaches are safe for swimming.

The authors acknowledge funding from USGS Great Lakes Science Center.

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Child at the beach
Use of a new water quality test this year could
prevent unnecessary beach closures while
better protecting the health of swimmers.