With Memorial Day and a summer of fun just around the corner, the Maryland Department of the Environment reminds everyone to take steps to stay healthy at the beach. This includes things we all can do to keep the water clean. It also includes staying informed about conditions at Maryland beaches.
Any time, any place, up-to-date beach information is just a few taps away with the Maryland Healthy Beaches smartphone app. The app – available for free – provides information from Memorial Day to Labor Day on water conditions and any health-based advisories at your favorite Maryland beaches. The app is available for iPhone at the App Store. The app for Android is being revised and is expected to be available again soon at Google Play.
The status of Maryland’s swimming beaches is also posted on the Maryland Healthy Beaches website on the Current Conditions page. The site includes an interactive map with color coding to show any advisories for a particular beach.
The web site also includes daily updates on rainfall for beaches. You should avoid swimming in natural waters within 48 hours of a heavy rain event because potentially harmful bacteria concentrations might rise due to polluted stormwater runoff.
You can sign up for email alerts and a text messaging system to let you know if your favorite beach has a notification. The website also provides tips on staying healthy at the beach. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Natural Resources and MDE also provide tips for National Healthy and Safe Swimming Week, which runs through May 24.
MDE works with local health departments to make sure water quality is monitored. When water quality samples collected from a beach area do not meet state and federal water quality criteria, an advisory is posted. MDE sets water quality standards and assures conformity in the program statewide. Prior to the start of beach season on Memorial Day, local health departments collect water samples from beaches and perform surveys to identify any nearby pollution sources that might adversely affect water quality. If any pollution sources are found they are corrected when possible.
Your local health departments determine where, when and how often your beach is sampled. The health departments continue to collect water samples during the season. Samples are sent to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene laboratory for analysis. When fecal bacteria standards are exceeded, the results are reported to local health departments so that beach managers can issue an advisory. An advisory is a recommendation against swimming or activities where submersion under water is likely.
There are nearly 200 monitored beaches in Maryland. During the 2014 beach season, Maryland’s monitored beaches were open for swimming without advisories 98.9 percent of the time. Beaches are only closed when the waters are affected by a sewage spill or overflow or other harmful contaminants.
The standards used for recreational waters and for issuing advisories were developed by EPA, and they are based on risk analysis and the probability of the potential risk of illness. When the bacteria standard is exceeded at your local beach, the risk of illness from full water contact is increased.
Although swimming in natural waters is not risk-free there are several things you can do to reduce the likelihood of getting sick from swimming in natural waters. You should find out if the area you want to swim in is monitored regularly and posted for closures or advisories. You should also avoid swimming at beaches after a heavy rainfall event.
MDE wants everyone to go home healthy after a beautiful day at a Maryland beach.