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People who hit the beaches of the Jersey shore over the July 4 holiday will wade, swim, and surf in some of the cleanest ocean waters in the nation, federal officials said Tuesday.
A rigorous water sampling and analysis program run each summer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is keeping tabs on bacteria, floating debris, and other pollutants in hopes of preserving the safety and recreational appeal of the ocean, EPA Regional Administrator Jane Kenny said.
Kenny and Sen. Jon S. Corzine, D-N.J., trumpeted the water-monitoring program during a helicopter tour of the coast that began near Sandy Hook and ended here.
Riding in the Coastal Crusader, a blue-and-white Twin Star helicopter, the two watched as EPA technicians lowered stainless steel cylinders into the water to take samples for analysis at an EPA lab.
The crew takes similar samples once a week during the summer at 44 major bathing beaches along the coast. The technicians also sample for phytoplankton, which can give advance warning about the possibility of toxic algae blooms that threaten water quality and sea life.
The results of the tests are shared with state and local agencies.
"As we approach the Fourth of July holiday, the prime season for swimming and other recreational activities at the Jersey shore, I want to assure everyone that these beaches are among the best-monitored in the country," said Kenny, a former department head under Gov. Christie Whitman, who now runs the EPA.
The program has helped curtail the number of New Jersey beaches closed because of water pollution, she said. Since 1995, there have been fewer than 50 ocean beach closings due to high bacteria counts, compared with more than 800 in 1988 alone.
"It's extremely important for folks to know we're in great shape" in terms of water quality, said Corzine. "We're seeing great results this summer."
The two were joined by mayors from the beach communities of Cape May Point, Stone Harbor, Avalon, Middle Township, and Upper Township, who called clean water a key element in their tourism-dependent municipalities.
"It's vitally important to all of us," said Stone Harbor Mayor Suzanne Walters. "What keeps the tourists coming are the clean beaches and ocean."