Beach Testing

The Beverly Health Department acts to protect the public from diseases associated with pathogenic agents and hazardous chemicals at public swimming areas. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s State Sanitary Code 105 CMR 445 regarding Bathing Beaches is enforced by the Beverly Health Department through weekly water sampling, posting of unsafe water areas and investigation of possible contamination source.

Current Beach Closures in Beverly (updated 9/5/23):

  • Beach Testing for the 2023 season is over. 
  • Check back here Memorial Day thru Labor Day in 2024!!!

Why are beaches tested?

Many of Beverly's beaches are tested regularly during the summer season (Memorial Day to Labor Day) for bacterial contamination. 

In the United States, most swim-related illnesses are associated with disease-causing organisms (pathogens) that are linked to fecal contamination. To protect public health, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) requires that certain “indicator organisms”, or specific microscopic bacteria that indicate harmful pathogens may be present.  This monitoring data helps local health officials determine when to close a beach due to unsafe conditions and to notify the public so that beach visitors can make informed decisions about swimming at the beach. Learn more about why beaches get posted and water quality monitoring on beaches.

How do bacteria get in beach water?

Bacteria in the water can come from a variety of sources. These include:

  • Stormwater (rain) run-off
  • Failing or malfunctioning septic systems
  • Combined and sanitary sewer overflows
  • Leaking sewer pipes
  • Illegal sewer hookups
  • Wildlife and pet waste
  • Agricultural runoff

How is beach water tested?

Local boards of health (such as the Beverly Board of Health), Barnstable County Department of Health and the Environment, and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation collect the majority of water samples in Massachusetts. Samples are collected in three feet of water at a depth of 12 inches below the surface water. Testing is done at accredited laboratories using laboratory methods approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The laboratory testing takes about 24 hours to perform, so water quality results are typically reported the next day.

Why do beaches close?

When levels of Enterococci or E. coli exceed the limits set for beaches, it is called an exceedance. Water is considered unsafe for swimming at a majority of beaches in Massachusetts when two exceedances occur following one after another without an interruption (consecutive days). Beaches with a history of multi-day exceedances are required to post after a single exceedance.

Beaches can be closed to swimming for reasons not related to bacteria. When there are concerns for other physical or chemical hazards, including riptides, poor visibility within the water, cyanobacteria and harmful algae blooms, heavy rainfall, combined sewer overflow events, or hazardous materials like PFAS, beach closures may also occur. Read more about why beaches close on the Massachusetts DPH website.

When will the beach re-open?

Beaches remain posted until test results from laboratory analysis show indicator bacteria levels are back within the acceptable range for water being safe to swim. Laboratory analysis for all beach samples takes approximately 24 hours, so it is common for a beach closure to last a day or two following an exceedance. Federal holidays can impact how quickly a sample comes back.

How do I know if it is safe to swim?

Know before you go.  Find out from your local health department or MDPH if the beach you want to go to is monitored regularly and posted for closures. MDPH maintains a list of beach postings during the swimming season.

Look for signs posted at the beach. Check for any warnings or beach closures indicating that the water is not safe because of bacteria, riptides, or other hazards.

Swimming conditions can also vary throughout the day. Below are a few recommendations for deciding when and where to swim:

  • Check the weather
  • Avoid swimming after heavy rain events - bacterial levels tend to rise due to runoff after heavy rains
  • Watch for "signs" of water pollution such as discolored, fast flowing, and strong-smelling water
  • Avoid swimming next to drainpipes, outlets, or other obvious sources of pollution
  • Do not swim near trash or street litter floating in the water
  • Avoid swallowing the water - when waterborne pathogens are present, most swimmers are exposed when they swallow the water. You will be less likely to get sick if you wade or swim without putting your head under water.
  • Swim only in areas designated as "swim beaches". Do not swim in rivers or streams unless they are designated swim beaches.

Can I still go to the beach if it is posted closed to swimming? 

Yes! If a beach is posted, it simply means that swimming is not allowed. There are plenty of safe recreational activities people can still do at the beach that don’t involve contact with the water, including walking along the shore; sunbathing; collecting seashells/sea glass; and playing sports such as paddleball, volleyball, football, frisbee, etc.

How do I help keep beaches clean?

  • Clean up after your pets
  • Do not feed birds – this only encourages the birds to hang out at the beach, which increases the risk of fecal matter
  • Use public restrooms
  • Pack up your trash and properly dispose of at home
  • Do not enter the water if you are ill/not feeling well
  • Change diapers and put plastic/rubber pants (e.g., swim diapers) on diapered children before allowing them in the water
  • Dispose of boat sewage at onshore sanitary facilities
  • Do not dump anything down storm drains; water moving through storm drains do not get treated at a wastewater facility and flows directly into our lakes and streams
  • Avoid using fertilizers and pesticides on your yard – these chemicals are easily carried into our surface waters during rain events and snowmelt
  • Use walkways and do not walk on dunes – this helps reduce erosion and preserve vegetation that filter out pollutants from runoff before they reach the beach