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It’s a fact: Many Great Lakes shorelines and beaches are polluted enough during some summer stretches to pose a hazard to swimmers and a threat to public health. The good news is that everyone who visits the coast can make a difference in helping to keep the Great Lakes clean!
The Alliance tackles a contributor to the problem – beach trash – during the annual September Adopt-a-Beach™ Cleanup Event, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 17 along shorelines in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin (dates and times may vary depending upon location). In Ohio, the Alliance partners again with the Ohio Lake Erie Commission as part of the annual Coastweeks event.
Most swim bans result from bacteria levels exceeding health and safety standards. Pollution from stormwater runoff and outdated sewage treatment systems are leading sources of the pathogens that threaten beach health. Waste matter from wildlife attracted to beaches is also to blame.
Since 1991, nearly 70,000 Adopt-a-Beach™ volunteers have removed more than 164 tons of debris from Great Lakes shorelines each September. In 2010, more than 7,006 volunteers in four Great Lakes states took part in the September Adopt-a-Beach™ event, removing 20,540 pounds of trash from 233 locations. Meanwhile, our year-round Adopt-a-Beach™ Program saw 11,000 volunteers participate last year.
“Unhealthy beaches reflect poor water quality in the Great Lakes -- which supply drinking water and are used by millions for swimming, boating and fishing,” says Jamie Cross, Adopt-a-Beach™ Program Manager. “Beach trash, in particular, attracts geese, gulls and other wildlife which -- in turn -- leads to an increase in fecal matter high in bacteria and possible pathogens such as Salmonella and rotavirus.”
During last summer alone, the EPA reports that 112 Great Lakes beaches were deemed unfit for swimming for at least 14 days. In Illinois, Indiana and New York, at least 30 percent of beaches were deemed unfit for swimming last summer during that time period; in Ohio it was 64.5 percent.
Our volunteers work hard but can’t do it alone. Congress and the White House need to help our shorelines and beaches by:
• Fully funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
• Reauthorizing the federal BEACH Act to eliminate sources of pollution.
• Support U.S. EPA’s ability to enforce water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.
“Individuals giving back is a vital component of the effort to keep our shorelines healthy,” said Joel Brammeier, Alliance President and CEO. “Sharpening the tools in U.S. EPA’s toolbox is just as vital.”
The federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an unprecedented investment in reducing polluted runoff and cleaning up toxic hot spots, goes a long way toward healthier beaches. But funding for the initiative dropped in 2011 and is at risk of falling short again in 2012. The federal BEACH Act, originally passed in 2000, has protected public health nationwide by funding state and local coastal beach health monitoring programs. But the states also need to be able spend a portion of their funding to actually remove pollution sources under a reauthorized BEACH Act.
To get involved in the September Adopt-a-Beach™ cleanup and register online, see www.greatlakesadopt.org.
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