Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Beach Pollution, Scuba Diving Precautions

A recent Associated Press article attracted my attention and made me remember a question that was posted on our Scuba Clinic Forum recently. The article is about an environmental group that is sueing the EPA over beach polution, charging that the US Environmental Protection Agency has failed to protect beaches around the country from pollution and exposed swimmers [and divers] to potential illness.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday by the Natural Resources Defense Council in U.S. District Court, the Associated Press reported.

Under a law passed by Congress in 2000, the EPA was supposed to update its beach water quality health standards by 2005. The lawsuit says the agency missed that deadline and its current standards are two decades old.

The Natural Resources Defense Council wants the court to order the EPA to complete the water quality studies and issue revised standards, the AP reported.

An EPA spokesman did not comment on the lawsuit but said the state of the nation's beach health "remains high," the AP reported.

In a question on our Scuba Clinic Forum, Amir asks about guidelines for the management of contaminants accumulation in wetsuits over time. There follows several answers concerning the washing and care of wet suits and basically stating that there needs to be studies to determine the correct way to rid wet suits of contaminants. You might want to vist the thread and post if you have any suggestions about maintaining your gear in polluted water and beaches.

The answer is that basically wet suits cannot be adequately cleaned after contamination.

Here is a great letter from Sean Sheldrake the Deputy Dive Safety Officer, USEPA, Region 10. We have his permission to publish.
"Dear Dr. Campbell,

We here in the Region 10 dive unit very much enjoy your blog and read it with some regularity. We did read some disturbing posts recently regarding "contaminated water diving" with a wetsuit*, and what was more disturbing, the implication that the wetsuit could somehow be cleaned.

Other than covering or neutralizing foul odors, removing salts, etc., wetsuits cannot be cleaned. The diver always has a level of dermal exposure using a wetsuit (and by implication ingestion due to the use of an "in the mouth" regulator), and to varying degrees the wetsuit forever carries the contaminants to which it has been exposed. NOAA and EPA have done studies in the 1980's which well establish the fact that neoprene materials will become impregnated with contaminants, and should be considered contaminated to varying degrees after diving in polluted water. See the excerpt from the Traver study at the link below "Interim protocol for diving operations in contaminated water":


The EPA dive safety manual section on polluted water may also be of interest. We continue to post what polluted water information resources we can to our website, and advocate that public safety and commercial divers should always wear a full face mask, drygloves, and a non-neoprene drysuit like the Viking. Some like Mr. Barsky suggest that hardhat, surface supplied diving is always the way to go for any level of pollution, but when I see commercial divers working for a "low bid" commercial dive contractor in polluted water wearing wetsuits and recreational regulator units, I think a middle ground can be advocated which gives the diver a modicum of protection (significant decrease in dermal and ingestion pathway exposure) without spending $10k to outfit one diver in the water.

Thank you for your time.

Sean Sheldrake, Deputy Dive Safety Officer USEPA, Region 10 Environmental Cleanup Office
1200 Sixth Avenue Mailstop: ECL-110 Seattle WA 98101-1128 sheldrake.sean@epa.gov Phone: 206/553-1220 / Fax: 206/553-0124 or -0910 http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/oea.nsf/webpage/dive+team http://yosemite.epa.gov/r10/cleanup.nsf/sites/ptldharbor

More about diving in polluted water on our web site here: http://www.scuba-doc.com/polwater.html