EPA eyes stricter beach contamination warnings

Oakland Beach, Warwick

A no-swimming sign is the last sign you want to see at the beach on a hot summer day.

"I don't like when they close it down. It kind of scares me," said beachgoer Donna Deschamps.

But it's a sign swimmers have gotten used to in Warwick at Conimicut and Oakland beaches and one they'll see again and again over the next few months.

"This place is closed down half the summer as it is now," said beachgoer Edward Provencal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering stricter guidelines on water quality warnings and that could lead to more beach closures in Southern New England.

"I think they are going a little too far. (There are) two kids enjoying (the water) so much. Do you want to take that away from them," Provencal said.

Under current EPA regulations, for Rhode Island beaches to be considered safe to swim bacteria levels must measure less than 104 units of bacteria per water sample.

The new guidelines would lower that threshold to 60 units of bacteria per water sample. If states choose not to participate in the new guidelines, they could lose federal grant money. The grant money largely pays for the water quality testing at the beach.

Opponents are worried that increased warnings will unnecessarily scare off swimmers. But supporters say swimmers have the right to know how much bacteria is in the water.

The EPA will consider public comment for the next few weeks and issue a decision by the end of July.