Are Erie beaches safe for swimming?

New report warns about contaminated beach water as Congress votes on funding to prevent pollution

LINK TO FULL REPORT: Safe for Swimming? 

Erie, PA – With summer in full swing, water pollution can close Erie County beaches and put swimmers' health at risk. Last year, bacteria levels at Pennsylvania beaches indicated that water was potentially unsafe for swimming there on least one day, according to the new report Safe for Swimming? by PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. The report comes as Congress is set to vote tomorrow on a major spending bill that includes an additional $11 billion for water infrastructure.

“Lake Erie has always been a destination for people across Western Pennsylvania to escape the hottest days of summer-- and this year especially, we need safe places to cool off with our families,” said Ashleigh Deemer, Deputy Director of PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “But we’ve got to do a better job of keeping the lake clean, if we want it to be safe for swimming.”

To assess beach safety, the group examined whether fecal indicator bacteria levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most protective “Beach Action Value,” which is associated with an estimated illness rate of 32 out of every 1,000 swimmers. At Presque-Isle State Park, some beaches had bacteria levels above this safety threshold on over a quarter of days tested last year.

8 out of the 9 beach sites tested in Erie County had enough pollution to put swimmers at risk of getting sick at least one day last year - including every beach at the iconic Presque Isle State Park.

Polluted runoff from roads and parking lots, overflowing or failing sewer systems, and farms are common sources of contamination that can put swimmers’ health at risk and lead authorities to close beaches or issue health advisories. Scientists estimate that 57 million instances of people getting sick each year from contact with polluted waters in the U.S.

The report recommends major investments to prevent sewage overflows and runoff pollution.  On Friday, the U.S. House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the “minibus #1” spending package, which includes an additional $11 billion in emergency water infrastructure funding.

“The best way to protect the lake, and ensure that it’s safe to swim every day, is to invest in infrastructure that prevents contamination in the first place,” said Deemer. 

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PennEnvironment is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironment.org.