U.S. Beachwater Seriously Polluted – Report

The water at American beaches was seriously polluted and jeopardized the health of swimmers last year, according to the 19th annual beachwater quality report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NRDC’s report–Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches–confirms that U.S. beachwaters continue to suffer from serious
contamination–including human and animal waste–that can make people
sick.

For the first time, the report this year explores
the effects of climate change on beachwater quality, revealing that
climate change is expected to make pollution worse. The combined
effects of temperature increases, and more frequent and intense
rainstorms, will lead to increased stormwater runoff, sewer pollution
and disease-causing pathogens in nearby waterways. Specifically,
climate change is anticipated to influence the presence of pathogens
that cause stomach flu, diarrhea and neurological problems in America’s
beachwater.

“Pollution from dirty stormwater runoff and sewage overflows continues to make its way to our beaches. This not only makes swimmers sick–it hurts coastal economies,” said Nancy Stoner, NRDC Water Program Co-Director. “Americans should not suffer the consequences of contaminated beachwater. From contracting the flu or pink eye, to jeopardizing millions of jobs and billions of dollars that rely on clean coasts, there are serious costs to inaction.”

While the report found a 10% decrease in closing and advisory days at beaches nationwide from 2007, it reveals this drop was the result of dry conditions in many parts of the country and decreased funding for water monitoring in some states last year, rather than a sign of large-scale improvement. The decline follows two years of record-high closing and advisory days and the primary pollution source, stormwater runoff after heavy rains, continues to be a serious problem that has not been addressed.

“When the rains return,” Stoner said, “so will pollution, forcing beaches to issue more closings and advisory days.”

Nationally, 7% of beachwater samples violated health standards–indicating the presence of human or animal waste–showing no improvement from 2007 or 2006. The highest level of contamination was found in the Great Lakes, where 13% of beachwater samples violated public health standards. In fact, from 2005-2008, the Great Lakes consistently tested the dirtiest, while the Southeast and Delmarva Peninsula proved relatively cleaner than other regions. States with the highest percentage of samples exceeding health standards in 2008 were Louisiana (29%), Ohio (19%), Indiana (18%) and Illinois (15%). Those with the lowest percent of water samples exceeding health standards last year were Delaware, New Hampshire and Virginia (all with 1%).

The best way to protect swimmers from beachwater pollution is to prevent it, NRDC said. Federal, state and local governments can make this a priority by requiring better controls on stormwater and sewage, the two largest known sources of beachwater pollution. A key solution is to utilize low impact development techniques in communities to retain and filter rainwater where it falls, letting it soak back into the ground rather than running off into waterways. This includes strategically placed rain gardens in yards, tree boxes on city sidewalks, green roofs that use absorbent vegetation on top of buildings, and permeable pavement that allows water to penetrate the material, instead of asphalt or concrete.

NRDC’s report also provides a 5-star rating guide for 200 of the
nation’s most popular beaches, based on indicators of beachwater
quality, monitoring frequency, and public notification of
contamination. Five-star beaches included Gulf Shores Public Beach
(AL), Laguna Beach-Main Beach (CA), Bolsa Chica State Beach in
Huntington Beach (CA), Newport Beach (CA), Ocean City (MD), Park Point
– Community Club Beach in Duluth (MN) and Hampton Beach State Park in
Hampton (NH). Some of the lowest ranking beaches (1-star) were Zach’s
Bay at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh (NY), Ocean Beach Park in New
London (CT), Venice Public Beach (FL) and Central Beach in Point
Pleasant (NJ).

The full report is available at the link below.

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