Look at this sign on the right. Does it look scary to you? I am not particularly fazed by it and yet it is an extremely important warning sign. It is telling me that there is a dangerously high level of bacteria in the water, enough to make me sick. But if I am looking forward to a day at the beach, that sign does not exactly stand out.


Of course, I could always check the website for beach advisories. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hosts a website, Beach Watch, an online directory of information about water quality at national beaches. But, there are 2 problems with this high-tech solution.


First, according to their own website, “States and local governments decide whether to open or close a beach. They report that information to EPA, but because they vary in how quickly they send it to us, we don't always have real-time reports.” How does that help me exactly?


Secondly, I have a computer with an internet connection at home but does everyone? In a 2006 study, Park Associates, a Dallas-based technology market research firm, found that “29 percent of U.S. households, or 31 million homes, do not have Internet access and do not intend to subscribe to an Internet service over the next 12 months.” Compiling information from the CIA’s world fact book, Neilson/NetRatings, and Computer Industry Almanac, ClickZ states “home web use continues to skew toward more affluent, younger and educated demographics. Both computer ownership and web use are lower in households comprised of seniors, among blacks and Hispanics and among households comprised of people with less than a high school education. Conversely, nearly all households earning over $100,000 -- 95 percent -- own at least one computer, and 92 percent are online. In homes earning under $40,000, the online figure plummets to 41 percent. Homes in the West are the most wired at 67 percent, closely followed by the Northeast and Midwest. Southern households had the lowest percentage of online computers at 52 percent.”


Recap: Those of us who belong to a minority group, make less money, did not go to college, and live in the south are less likely to have access to the Beach Advisory website.


The EPA requires states, tribes, and local governments to “post a sign or functional equivalent when a water quality standard is exceeded”. But, does the sign above and a website warning really qualify as a public notification of danger?

Casey DeMoss Roberts is the Special Projects Coordinator for the Gulf Restoration Network


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