IN A STATE with 4,300 miles of shoreline, testing water quality of beaches is a basic public health function. Despite the large numbers of people who fish and swim in Maryland's waters, environmental groups find shortcomings with the testing methods of the state and many of the counties.
The Natural Resources Defense Council, in a national survey, found fault with Maryland's approach to testing water at beaches because many of the counties bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay do not have required monitoring. Under state law, mandatory water quality testing is required only at beaches that are regulated by permit. There is no regular oversight of "community" beaches -- which don't charge an admission fee.
Considering that the state itself judges 100 percent of Maryland's bay waters "impaired" or "threatened" by pollution or contamination, monitoring waters where people swim and fish should be a high priority. Yet of the 15 counties bordering the ocean, the bay or its tributaries, only eight -- Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne's, Worcester and St. Mary's -- regularly test.
Moreover, the results are not often publicized. Anne Arundel, which regularly tests six public beaches and voluntarily monitors 72 private ones, has a hot line (410-222-7999) on water quality. But other means of notification are spotty. People regularly fish, crab and even swim in Marley, Furnace and Rock creeks even though those northern county inlets have been "permanently closed" for years due to high bacteria levels. Signs notifying swimmers and crabbers of the danger have disappeared and many aren't aware of the high levels of pollution.
Six waterside counties -- Harford, Prince George's, Charles, Dorchester, Talbot and Wicomico -- have no beach monitoring. People may be swimming in waters or consuming seafood contaminated with toxins or bacteria.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation considers beach pollution symptomatic of a deeper problem: Polluted runoff is fouling these beaches. It wants the state to identify polluted streams and develop remedial plans, as required by the Clean Water Act. If Maryland were to implement such a strategy on runoff pollution, the need for regular beach monitoring and public notification might not be as pressing.
Pub Date: 8/01/97