On July 28, 2022, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay issued a midsummer special report on beach posting and flagging accuracy on the Bay State’s ocean beaches owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Based on their review of 1,500 data points from 15 beaches from 2016-2021, the accuracy of postings required by the Department of Public Health (DPH) on the Metropolitan Region’s public beaches ranged from a low of 0% to a maximum of 46%. Though the midsummer report focused on the Metropolitan Region’s public beaches, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s analysis suggests that this is a statewide problem affecting nearly every ocean beach in Massachusetts.
“It appears as if you would be better off flipping a coin than believing a red flag on our ocean beaches,” said Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s Executive Director, Chris Mancini. “The results are not surprising, but they are very disappointing. For example, half-way through the summer, 100% of the required postings and corresponding red flags on Constitution Beach in East Boston have been wrong, while flagging accuracy at Short Beach in Revere was 0% in 2021.”
For this interim report, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s policy staff examined the 2022 data posted on the water quality locator website of the DPH, as well as data from G&L Labs, which facilitates testing and posting for the Department of Conservation & Recreation. Though the midsummer special study focused on Constitution Beach in East Boston, Save the Harbor/Save the Bay also looked at all the testing, posting and flagging data from 15 Boston area beaches from Nahant to Nantasket from 2016 to 2021. Based on their preliminary analysis of more than 1,500 data points, on average 80% of the postings and corresponding red flags have been wrong. Though the DPH recently called the postings “near real time,” under the current posting protocol for the Metropolitan Beaches, and most of the Commonwealth’s other ocean beaches, results are posted at least a full day after the samples are taken, so they are always at least 24 hours old and out of date.
This situation is made worse by the fact that the information on the DPH’s water quality website (maintained by their Bureau of Environmental Health) is still only available in English, and the FAQs and website have not been updated since 2001, despite repeated requests.
“Save the Harbor/Save the Bay is calling on Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders to instruct the Department of Public Health (DPH) to conduct a public and comprehensive review of posting accuracy on the Commonwealth’s Beaches,” said Mancini. “We are also calling for DPH and the Bureau of Environmental Health to do their jobs. It is time for them to update and translate their website as nearly every other state agency has done, and make accurate, timely information about current water quality on the Metropolitan Beaches available to all the region’s residents, no matter what language they speak.”
According to Save the Harbor/Save the Bay’s Director of Strategy and Communications, Bruce Berman, the nonprofit advocacy group undertook this study when they realized during an annual data review that more than 80% of the postings on Constitution Beach were wrong in 2021, while 100% were wrong in 2020. “To suggest that posting outdated results that are nearly always wrong protects the public health in any way is simply silly,” said Berman. “The Department of Public Health and the Department of Conservation & Recreation must do better. Save the Harbor and our policy team and partners are ready to help.”
According to Save the Harbor/ Save the Bay’s Policy Assistant, Caroline Adamson, a candidate for an MS in public health at Boston University’s School of Public Health, “Our preliminary analysis of the data since 2016 suggests that ‘precautionary postings’ based on the previous day’s rainfall are more than twice accurate as the required postings for this beach (46% inaccurate vs. 80% inaccurate, or 54% vs 20% accurate).”
“In his very first order in the Boston Harbor Cleanup case, U.S. District Court Judge A. David Mazzone said that The Law secured to the People the Right to clean water,” said Mancini. “Inaccurate postings like these rob people, especially people in Environmental Justice communities like East Boston, of their right to enjoy the benefits of our enormous public investment in clean water.”