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Serious Pollution Persists at Many US Beach Waters, Says New Report

NRDC report highlights America’s dirtiest and cleanest beaches, recommends better monitoring and regulations

It’s summertime and the promise of beach days is enticing for those looking for relaxing time in the sun and outdoor fun. But be warned, the clear blue ocean waters may not be quite that clean.

Dohney Beach, CAPhoto Hannah Arista Photography
Dohney Beach, in Orange County, CA. One of the 11 repeat offender beaches that have continuously shown hazardous levels of bacteria counts.

Beaches across America experienced over 20,000 closing and advisory days for the third year in a row because of polluted water or threatened contamination, says a new report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Over 80 percent of the closings and advisories were issued because testing revealed bacteria levels in the water violated public health standards. The primary known cause of this pollution is massive stormwater runoff and sewage.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water can spoil a family vacation real fast, turning a day of lounging at the beach into a day at the doctor’s office with a sick child,” NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine said in a statement. He said beachwater pollution was also bad for business in seaside communities.

The annual report, Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, collects and analyzes the latest beachwater testing data results from the US Environmental Protection Agency and state beach coordinators at more than 3,000 beach testing locations nationwide. Now in its twenty-third year, it uses a 5-star rating guide to evaluate 200 of the nation’s popular beaches, based on water quality and best practices for testing and public notification.

This year, the report deemed 11 beaches “Repeat Offenders” (see list below). These beaches have continuously shown hazardous levels of bacteria counts.

Swimming in polluted beachwater expose people to nasty stuff like stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis, and hepatitis. Yikes! This information can easily frighten any beachgoer who now has to consider the threat of contracting a gastrointestinal sickness in exchange for a refreshing ocean dip. But despite the gloomy statistics, there is hope yet for beach lovers of America.

On the bright side, the report also gave 13 beaches a 5-star “Superstar” rating. And it suggests some things the EPA can do to protect beachgoers.

Because contaminated run off from cities and towns near beaches are the main source of beachwater pollution, NRDC recommends that the EPA introduce new regulations and “rigorously enforce, existing regulations across the nation that try to curb the contamination at source by using twenty-first century green solutions. Examples of these “green infrastructures” are: porous pavement, street planting, and green roofs. The intent of these proposed infrastructures is to effectively collect runoff water, therefore decreasing the amount of runoff into the storm drain system, and ultimately the ocean.

After discovering the possible maladies associated with contact to contaminated water how do you feel when you learn that the EPA is actually proposing to alter the current allowable bacteria levels to a more lenient level when in comparison to the 25-year-old standing regulation?

Rehoboth Beach, DelawarePhoto Al LetowRehoboth Beach, Sussex County, DE. One of the 13 "Superstar" beaches.

The agency’s new recreational beachwater quality criteria fails to protect against exposure to pathogens on any given day, the report says. The prior criteria triggered a violation after a single sample of beachwater was found contaminated. The new critera, however, allows water quality to exceed the criteria up to 10 percent of the time without triggering a violation. What’s worse is that the EPA now says that it is acceptable for 1 in 28 swimmers to become ill with gastrointestinal sicknesses such as diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, when swimming in recreational waters.

Information like this makes it seem like the EPA is not acting in the highest interest of the public. The good news is that a coalition of environmental groups such as the NRDC, Clean Ocean Action, Hackensack Riverkeeper, Heal the Bay, Natural Resources Defense Council, NY/NJ Baykeeper, Riverkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance have already taken action to expose the EPA’s blatant disregard for public health. Last week, they filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue EPA for failure to protect the public from polluted beach water.

“Americans don’t expect bacteria, raw sewage and dangerous pollution in the water when they go swimming at the beach, but too often the agency responsible for protecting us is falling down on the job,” says Steve Fleischli, director of NRDC’s Water Program. “EPA must raise the bar for what it considers safe to swim.”

If you folks are wondering how the public can help alleviate the problem of beach water pollution, there are steps that can be taken. The most impactful of these is keeping a clean, toxic weedicide and pesticide free backyard so that when it rains, the runoff water to the storm drains isn’t teeming with litter and toxic wastes. Finally, in order to reduce your chance of contracting an ocean-borne sickness, make sure to avoid swimming near discharge pipes and during high-risk periods, for example after a heavy rainfall.

So next time you are arranging a beach day, be sure to check the status of your destination beach’s water before you head out. Checking the water quality of your preferred beach has never been easier thanks to the NRDC’s mobile friendly zip code searchable map. You can find it here.

I wish you all safe planning in your future beach endeavors!

Repeat Offenders
Avalon Beach, Los Angeles, CA
Doheny State Beach, Orange County, CA
Poche County Beach, Orange County, CA
Jeorse Park Beach, Lake County, IN
Beachwood Beach, Ocean County, NJ
Ontario Beach, Monroe, NY
Lakeshore Park, Ashtabula County, OH
Cuyahoga, Euclid State Park, OH
Cuyahoga, Villa Angela State Park, OH
Edson Creek, Erie County, OH
South Shore Beach, Milwaukee County, WI
Superstar Beaches
Gulf Shores Public Beach, AL
Gulf State Park Pavilion, AL
Bolsa Chica Beach, CA
Huntington State, Beach CA
Newport Beach CA
Dewey Beach, DE
Rehobeth Beach, DE
Ocean City, MD
Bay City State Recreation Area, MC
Park Point Franklin Park, MN
Lafayette Community Club Beach, MN
Hampton Beach State Park, NH
Wallis Sands Beach, NH


Niki BeigiNiki Beigi photo
Niki Beigi is a fourth-year Environmental Studies major studying at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She has a passion for environmental journalism, and is interested in keeping the public informed on the global issues of today.

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We need corrective actions to stem the pollution, not more studies or alerts.

By Mitch Labuda on Wed, June 26, 2013 at 1:27 pm

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