By Stephen Smith, Globe Staff
Since Memorial Day, more than 130 Massachusetts beaches have faced temporary swimming closures as heavy rains overwhelm sewer systems and sweep pet waste and other detritus into coastal waters and inland lakes, state public health authorities reported this morning.
It is the highest number of late-spring and early-summer beach closings in any year since at least 2002, and represents more closings for the period than in 2002 through 2005 combined.
"When you look at it on a year-by-year basis and you look at this year, 2009, it's just remarkable," said Suzanne Condon, director of the Bureau of Environmental Health at the state Department of Public Health. "It's pretty amazing, and it's obviously because of the rain."
The persistent deluges have taxed sewer systems so severely, Condon said, that they are unable to process waste and rain water properly, and the overflow has nowhere to go except into the ocean and other water sources.
At the same time, the rain acts like a huge squeegee, picking up dog droppings, garbage, seaweed, and other material left on the land.
The problem tends to be most acute in urban areas and swaths of the state with an influx of summertime vacationers, Condon said. Beaches are closed when testing by local health boards shows a dangerous level of contaminants. Usually, they remain closed for a matter of days.
"Once rainfall stops for a period of 24 to 48 hours, we see a recovery of beach water quality," Condon said. "You've got this elimination of the source of the contamination and then you have the natural flushing of the tidal changes."
Current beach closings and water quality monitoring results are available on the Department of Public Health website.
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