LYNN — High bacteria counts are leaking from stormwater pipes into King’s Beach in Lynn, contributing to a problem that makes it the most polluted state beach in the Boston area, according to the environmental group Save the Harbor/Save the Bay.
The revelation came after the nonprofit released a water quality study from last summer rating 18 state-run beaches. The study ranked beaches in order of cleanliness, using data that measured how much bacteria was in the water, and how often beaches had to be closed. While Nantasket Beach scored a perfect 100, King’s Beach ranked last — being open just 73 percent of the time last summer.
Save the Harbor/Save the Bay spokesman Bruce Berman said of the five North Shore beaches that were tested, Revere, Winthrop, Nahant and Short, in Revere, scored in the 80s, and only closed after heavy rains. Berman believes a bigger problem exists at King’s Beach, a large barrier beach shared by Lynn and Swampscott. Both communities have storm drain pipes that exit at the same part of the beach. Last year, high counts of bacteria were found where the drain flow from the pipes joins and streams into the ocean.
The state Department of Conservation Recreation, which manages 18 beaches in the Boston area, has different criteria for the amount of times it tests a beach. In the past, King’s Beach has been tested weekly. After the report was released, the DCR decided to test it daily during the summer.
“It’s an issue that needs to be addressed. And the next step I think should be additional daily testing on the beach and for us to take a good look at the data that both Lynn and Swampscott have about what they’re putting into the pipe,” said Berman.
Just where the bacteria are coming from is now subject to speculation. Until now, the two communities have worked separately to address the problem. But beginning today, Lynn Water and Sewer Commission director Daniel O’Neil said he planned to meet with Swampscott town officials to discuss the beach.
O’Neil acknowledged that heavy storms can cause Lynn’s sewer lines to back up as often as four times a year and flow into King’s Beach, but he said the water quality has improved greatly in recent decades. “Twenty years ago, all the sewage went out to the beach,” he said. But years ago, the city built a sewage treatment plant, and in 2004, Lynn spent $35 million to separate its sewer and storm pipes. O’Neil said he’s ruled out illegal sewer hookups that may be connected to drain pipes throughout the city, and he believes that the bacteria may be coming from the remains of the sewage that has seeped deep into the sand and can remain for years.
“If we have an overflow event, then the sewage is going to discharge and it’s going to get caught in the sand,” O’Neil said.
Swampscott also has a long history of discharging water and sewage to the beach. In 2006, the town signed a consent order with the state Department of Environmental Protection that called for the town to build a chlorination station to clean the water before it reached the beach. Victoria Masone, Swampscott’s assistant town engineer, said the station was built on Pine Street — a few blocks from the ocean — where chlorine is dumped into the water to disinfect the stream. Meanwhile, the town has just approved a $200,000 plan to fix a cracked sewer pipe that was draining into a broken storm pipe on Essex Avenue, about a mile from the beach.
Masone said that improvement will have little effect on the beach’s water quality. Since 2006, she said, the town has tested three times a week in the summer months the water that is discharged from the 7-foot-high water pipe at King’s Beach. She said all tests have shown that the water is clean.
“It’s a mystery. I really don’t know why the beach is contaminated,” she said. “I can’t point to something in our system that’s contributing.”