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The Florida Department of Health works to protect, promote & improve the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county, & community efforts.

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Florida Healthy Beaches Program

Florida Department of Health in Volusia County Environmental Health

The Florida Department of Health in Volusia County collects samples for microbiological analysis on different coastal beach locations on a routine basis. The authority and funding for this program comes from the State Healthy Beaches Program which was enacted through State legislation in August of 2000 and includes all 34 of Florida's coastal counties.

New Water Quality Criteria 

January 2016 the Florida Department of Health (DOH) has adopted new water quality criteria for use in the Healthy Beaches Program.  These criteria reflect the most current, 2012 Recreational Water Quality Criteria (RWQ criteria), recommendations and water quality grant requirements put forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).  We have put a frequently asked questions section at the end of this webpage of some of the most common questions likely to be asked as a result of this change.

Enterococci Single Sample Results Description 2016:

Good: 0-35 Enterococci CFU per 100 ml of marine water

Moderate: 36-70 Enterococci CFU per 100 ml of marine water

Poor (unsatisfactory): 71 or greater Enterococci CFU per 100 ml of marine water

Health Implications 

Enterococci is an enteric indicator bacteria that normally inhabit the intestinal tract of humans and animals. The presence of enteric bacteria is an indication of fecal pollution, which may come from stormwater runoff, pets and wildlife and human sewage. If they are present in high concentrations in recreational waters and are ingested while swimming or enter the skin through a cut or sore, they may cause human disease, infections or rashes.

Water Quality Criteria FAQs

1. What is the Healthy Beaches Program?

The Healthy Beaches Program monitors the bacteria levels at 255 marine beaches.  High levels of bacteria can indicate an increased risk of gastrointestinal illness (GI illness) in swimmers.  When high levels of Enterococci bacteria are found, public health advisories are posted and the media are notified to warn the bathing public of this increased risk of GI illness.  See DOH webpage at: http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/beach-water-quality/index.html

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2. What is changing?

The current water quality standard is a Single Sample Maximum (SSM) of 104 Colony Forming Units (CFU) of Enterococci bacteria per 100 milliliters (mL) of seawater.  The 2012 Recreational Water Quality Criteria recommends the use of 70 CFU per 100 mL as the Beach Action Value (BAV) for issuance of public health advisories.

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3. Why is the standard changing?

Findings from recent epidemiological studies indicate that disease risks from water with high bacteria levels are somewhat higher than previously thought.  The goal with the new standards is to make sure Florida residents and visitors are informed when the bacterial counts may pose an increased risk for GI illness so they can take proper precautions.

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4. What does the change in Beach Action Value mean for public health?

Epidemiological studies reviewed by USEPA indicate that the risk of GI illness in swimmers exposed to water with high bacterial counts is slightly higher than previously thought.  If precautions are taken based on the lower BAV standard fewer swimmers will become ill.

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5. What is the risk of illness associated with exposure to contaminated beach water?

Bacteria are found in all natural waters. About 36 of 1,000 people are estimated to get ill from exposure to water with bacterial counts at the BAV standard (70 CFU per 100 ml).  If bacterial test results are higher than the BAV, it could be expected that more swimmers would become ill; and less illness will occur if tests show bacteria is lower than the standard.

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6. What is the difference between the Single Sample Maximum and the Beach Action Value?

An SSM at 70 CFU per 100 ml and a BAV are functionally the same.  If the sample result is above the indicated value, then a next-day resample must be tested or a beach advisory must be issued with the first test result.

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7. When will this change become effective?

The change in standards will become effective in Florida for all testing conducted and results received from January 1, 2016 forward.

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8. Why is Florida adopting the BAV?

The adoption of the BAV is required for all states receiving the federal Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health Act (BEACH Act) grants.  The BEACH Act is part of the federal Clean Water Act and allows the USEPA to award grants to states to conduct water quality monitoring at marine and Great Lakes beaches.  Beginning in 2016, the use of the BAV is a grant condition all states are required to meet in order to receive the grant funding.

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9. Does DOH have the authority to adopt these new standards?

Section 514.023 of the Florida Statutes authorizes DOH to adopt rules and set health standards pertaining to bacteriological sampling of marine beaches.

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10. How big of an impact will this change have on the number of beach water quality advisories issued by the department?

The affect at individual beaches will vary.  Statewide we are anticipating that the number of poor beach water samples will increase by approximately 3 percent.

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11. Will this mean there will be more beach water quality advisories?

Based upon recent sampling, the number of advisories issued as part of the Healthy Beaches Program will increase.  Analyses of past data estimates that this increase would be about 65 more advisories statewide each year.  This is about 247 advisories versus the current 182 per year.

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12. What percentage of samples tested are above the current standard?

Only about five percent of the marine beach water samples collected in Florida in a given year are above the previous water quality standards.  Based on historical data, the Department expects about 8% of samples will exceed the new water standard.

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13. Will the BAV be codified in Florida law or rule?

No.  The BAV will not be in the Florida Statutes or the Administrative Code (FAC). Section 514.023 of the Florida Statutes authorizes DOH to set health standards pertaining to bacteriological sampling of marine beaches.

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14. Will the new DEP standards apply to the Florida Healthy Beaches Program?

No.  The standards developed by DEP do not apply to monitoring done as part of the Healthy Beaches Program.  Likewise, the BAV will not apply to their non-beach water quality standards.

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15. Will other state water quality criteria be changing?

Yes. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is responsible for setting the standards for water quality in Florida. The Florida Environmental Regulation Commission adopted DEP's updated water quality criteria on December 9, 2015. Once filed, the updated rules will be found at https://www.flrules.org/gateway/ChapterHome.asp?Chapter=62-302 or on the DEP water quality standards web page at http://www.dep.state.fl.us/water/wqssp.

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16. Are the BAVs used as part of the DEP Florida Water Quality criteria?

Yes.  DOH beach advisories will continue to be used by DEP to assess waters pursuant to the Impaired Waters Rule, Chapter 62-303, FAC.  This rule describes procedures to publically list waters that are impaired.

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17. Where do I find the 2012 USEPA RWQ Criteria documents and EPI studies?

See the USEPA webpage at: http://www.epa.gov/wqc/2012-recreational-water-quality-criteria

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