Two New York-based environmental groups are challenging federal Environmental Protection Agency water quality standards that determine whether a beach is safe for public use, saying the new regulations are too lax.
Manhattan-based Waterkeeper Alliance and Riverkeeper in upstate Ossining joined five other groups from across the country in filing an "intent to sue" notice on June 20.
"The EPA is not relying on the best science and not setting strict enough regulations," said Phillip Musegaas, Hudson River program director for Riverkeeper. "We want the EPA to make sure that when there are bacteria, that they are not allowing people to swim in it."
The EPA declined to comment on the potential litigation.
The environmental groups oppose changes the agency made to its recreational water quality criteria in November.
Although state health departments can create their own beach sanitation rules, the EPA standard serves as a guide for determining if a swimming beach should be closed, said EPA spokesman Dale Kemery.
Musegaas said tough environmental standards for beaches are a must in New York because overflows from sewage treatment systems sometimes spill into harbors.
A Riverkeeper report found beach water samples taken in New York City from 2006 to 2011 failed EPA standards 24 percent of the time. Nationwide, 7 percent of beach water samples failed during the same period.
Under the revised standard -- the first update since 1986 -- 10 percent of water samples taken each month can exceed EPA's bacteria contamination limit without triggering a beach closure. The previous criteria prohibited beach use after a single water sample exceeded the contamination limit, said Mary Ellen Laurain, spokeswoman for the Nassau County Department of Health.