Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Extramural Research

Funding Opportunities

Site Navigation
Research Grant Announcements
NCER Listserv
Grantee Research Project Results

Extramural Research Search

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Office of Research and Development
National Center for Environmental Research
Science to Achieve Results (STAR) Program


Recreational Water Quality: Indicators and Interstitial Zones

Opening Date: February 14, 2000
Closing Date: June 6, 2000

Indicator Microbes for Pathogens Causing Non-enteric Diseases
Tropical Indicators
Shoreline Interstitial Water
Standard Instructions for Submitting an Application

Get Forms and Instructions


The Clean Water Act (CWA), its predecessor the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), and their amendments mandate that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide guidelines to the States for making the nation's waters and waterways fishable and swimmable. In 1976, in response to the requirements of the FWPCA, the EPA published Water Quality Criteria recommending fecal coliform indicator bacteria for measuring swimming water quality. In 1986, under the CWA, the Agency used research data developed in the 1970's and early 1980's to promulgate new criteria based on the correlation of E. coli and enterococci to swimming-associated gastroenteritis. In 1997 the Administrator of the EPA, recognizing the need for consistent and improved monitoring systems, announced the Beaches Environmental Assessment, Closure and Health (BEACH) Program. The goal of this program is to reduce the risk of disease to users of the nation's natural recreational waters through improvements in recreational water programs, communication, and through scientific advances. In response to the BEACH program, an Action Plan for Beaches and Recreational Waters was developed. The Action Plan addresses program development activities, risk communication activities and improvements in the science supporting recreational water monitoring programs. The latter includes water quality indicators research, modeling and monitoring research, and exposure and health effects research. Research areas of interest are identified in the Action Plan and three of these are described below. In this Request for Applications, the EPA solicits applications that take new and innovative approaches to develop methods or exposure assessment information in three research areas associated with the nation's natural recreational waters.


Indicator Microbes for Pathogens Causing Non-enteric Diseases

Recreational water contact is known to be associated with enteric diseases in exposed swimmers; therefore, indicators currently in use are designed to detect the presence of human fecal contamination (Pruss, A. 1998, Review of Epidemiological Studies on Health Effects from Exposure to Recreational Water, International J. Epidemiology, 27:1-9). Although acute gastrointestinal swimming-associated disease has been correlated with high densities of E. coli and enterococci in bathing waters, there currently are no means to measure the potential recreational water exposure risks for skin, upper respiratory tract, eye, ear, and throat infections. The etiologic organisms for these infections may be indigenous to aquatic environments or may be associated with industrial or animal waste runoff, or food processing wastes.

Because ambient water indicators are health based, the Agency is interested in supporting research to validate non-enteric indicator (or suite of indicators) levels associated with non-enteric disease prevalence. Also useful would be information to better define what type of non-fecal pollution has the potential to contaminate recreational waters with non-enteric pathogens.

Tropical Indicators

Currently recommended microbial indicators of sewage contamination, E. coli and enterococci, may not be suitable for assessing human health risks in tropical climates. Increasing evidence suggests that in tropical environments such as Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Guam, E. coli and enterococci can be found in soil and surface water in the absence of warm-blooded animals, the usual source of these organisms (Fujioka, R., Sian-Denton, C., Borja, M., Castro, J., Morphew, K. 1999, Soil: the environmental source of Escherichia coli and Enterococci in Guam's streams, Journal of Applied Microbiology Symposium Supplement, 85, 83S-89S). They may even be found seasonally in southern states such as Florida. The ramifications of this phenomenon could be significant because current monitoring practices could lead to unnecessary closures or postings of recreational beaches.

Alternative indicators have been proposed for these tropical and sub-tropical regions (Toranzos, G. 1991, Current and possible alternate indicators of fecal contamination in tropical waters: A short review, Environmental Toxicology and Water Quality: An International Journal, 6, 121-130). However, research should be conducted to determine the nature and extent of current and alternative indicator organisms in soils or other environments under ambient tropical conditions. Research is needed to discern the parameters relating to soil, nutrients, moisture, temperature, time of year, and latitudes that may promote their natural proliferation. If this phenomenon is found to occur on a frequent basis it may be necessary to establish different indicators for areas in which non-animal E. coli and enterococci appear to be endemic.

Shoreline Interstitial Water

The portion of the beach shoreline that is constantly washed by waves and tides may provide an exposure area that poses an increased risk for toddlers and young children who play and wade in this "swash" zone. Beach sand has been shown to provide a habitat for microorganisms. The interstices, or spaces between and within sand grains, offer micro-habitats where pathogens may adhere and accumulate. The interstitial area may then provide an organically rich environment conducive to the growth of certain bacterial pathogens normally unable to multiply in open surface waters. Increased wave energy may subsequently resuspend and free the adsorbed and accumulated pathogens to the sand surface or water column, where they may present a health risk to those exposed.

Research data in this area would provide information to public health authorities for making decisions about beach associated risks. This would include: whether or not pathogens can accumulate and/or multiply to potentially hazardous levels if they migrate to the sand surface or to the water column where human exposure may occur; whether microbes, i.e., bacteria, viruses or parasites carried in surface waters, accumulate in interstitial waters due to wave action in the swash zone; and defining the depth in sand at which these microbes may be typically found.


Subject to the availability of funds, approximately $1.5 million is expected to be awarded in FY2000 in this program. Grant awards will be up to $225,000 annually with a duration of two or three years.


Academic and not-for-profit institutions located in the U.S., and state or local governments, are eligible under all existing authorizations. Profit-making firms are not eligible to receive grants from EPA under this program. Federal agencies and national laboratories funded by federal agencies (Federally-funded Research and Development Centers, FFRDCs) may not apply.

Federal employees are not eligible to serve in a principal leadership role on a grant. FFRDC employees may cooperate or collaborate with eligible applicants within the limits imposed by applicable legislation and regulations. They may participate in planning, conducting, and analyzing the research directed by the principal investigator, but may not direct projects on behalf of the applicant organization or principal investigator. The principal investigator's institution may provide funds through its grant from EPA to a FFRDC for research personnel, supplies, equipment, and other expenses directly related to the research. However, salaries for permanent FFRDC employees may not be provided through this mechanism.

Federal employees may not receive salaries or in other ways augment their agency's appropriations through grants made by this program. However, federal employees may interact with grantees so long as their involvement is not essential to achieving the basic goals of the grant.1 The principal investigator's institution may also enter into an agreement with a federal agency to purchase or utilize unique supplies or services unavailable in the private sector. Examples are purchase of satellite data, census data tapes, chemical reference standards, analyses, or use of instrumentation or other facilities not available elsewhere, etc. A written justification for federal involvement must be included in the application, along with an assurance from the federal agency involved which commits it to supply the specified service.

1EPA encourages interaction between its own laboratory scientists and grant principal investigators for the sole purpose of exchanging information in research areas of common interest that may add value to their respective research activities. However, this interaction must be incidental to achieving the goals of the research under a grant. Interaction that is "incidental" is not reflected in a research proposal and involves no resource commitments.
Potential applicants who are uncertain of their eligibility should contact Dr. Robert E. Menzer in NCER, phone (202) 564-6849, email: menzer.robert@epa.gov.


A set of special instructions on how applicants should apply for an NCERQA grant is found on the NCERQA web site, http://www.epa.gov/ncer/, Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application. The necessary forms for submitting an application are also found on this web site.

Sorting Code

The need for a sorting code to be used in the application and for mailing is described in the Standard Instructions for Submitting a STAR Application. The sorting code for applications submitted in response to this solicitation is 2000-STAR-J1. The deadline for receipt of the application by NCERQA is June 6, 2000.


The following contact person will respond to inquiries regarding this solicitation and can respond to any technical questions related to your application.

Cynthia Nolt-Helms 202-564-6763

Jump to main content.