A new, online tool launched this week by the nonprofit Save the Sound reveals which local beaches are more often contaminated with disease-causing, fecal bacteria and which are judged cleaner and healthier. Called the Sound Health Explorer, the web-based, interactive map identifies health dangers and water quality trends at Long Island Sound beaches using data from health departments in Connecticut, Westchester, and on Long Island.
The Sound Health Explorer grades beaches around Long Island Sound on an “A” to “F” scale. Each grade is based on how often over the last decade a beach has failed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bacterial pollution standards for safe swimming. However, even if a location receives a passing grade, that does not necessarily mean it is free of disease-causing pollution—it is still possible, although less likely, to get sick even in water that meets EPA guidelines.
In Westchester, Glen Island Park in New Rochelle and Rye Town Beach in Rye are among the most reliably clean beaches, while Shore Acres in Mamaroneck and Surf Club in New Rochelle both frequently exceed bacteria limits and received failing grades.
According to Save the Sound, health risks associated with swimming in waters contaminated with fecal bacteria include viral, parasitic, and bacterial infections. Common illnesses include diarrhea, pink eye and ear infections, and skin irritation, but serious problems can occur too, especially in children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems.
Common sources of fecal contamination in Westchester areas around the Sound include sanitary sewer overflows, where sewage is discharged into the environment before it’s treated at a sewage treatment plant. Cracked pipes and broken-down sewage infrastructure are major problems that contribute to fecal bacteria in the Sound.
Most areas around the Sound are also affected by polluted storm water runoff that delivers pollutants from streets into our waterways. Pollution from storm water runoff can be effectively lessened with green infrastructure practices such as rain gardens and porous pavement that let rainwater filter into the ground rather than running into storm drains.
Says Tracy Brown, director of western Long Island Sound programs for Save the Sound, “…with the data that the Sound Health Explorer provides, communities can find and tackle the pollution sources affecting their beaches—whether that means supporting investment in wastewater infrastructure to keep sewage in the pipes where it belongs, or enforcing laws about illegal sewer hookups and septic maintenance.”
Save the Sound encourages shoreline residents to contact their local government and local health departments about sewage leaks and overflows, and to send photos and documentation of any leaks to: firstname.lastname@example.org.