WEDNESDAY, June 29 (HealthDay News) -- As the summer gets into
full swing, a new report Wednesday warns that water pollution can
make a day at the beach no day at the beach.
Last year was one of the worst in two decades for
pollution-related beach closures and warnings, partly due to the
Gulf of Mexico oil spill and rainy weather, according to the report
from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental
Going to the beach is "a summer rite of passage, but,
unfortunately, it can also make you sick," David Beckman, director
of the council's Water Program told a morning press conference
"America's beaches have long suffered from pollution, including bacteria-laden human and animal waste," he added. "The biggest known source of this contamination is polluted stormwater runoff."
This contamination can make people sick with the stomach flu,
rashes, pinkeye, dysentery, hepatitis, ear, nose and throat
problems, and other diseases, Beckman said.
The report, the 21st annual
Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation
Beaches, analyzed government data on beachwater test results from more than 3,000 beaches nationwide. As in past years, the report found that much of the beachwater is contaminated from oil, and human and animal waste.
Beaches -- including inland ones not near an ocean -- were
closed or warnings were issued for 24,091 days in 2010, an increase
of 29 percent from 2009, making it the second worst year in the
last 21 years. Much of the contamination was the result of sewage
spills and stormwater runoff, exacerbated by heavy rainfall in
Hawaii and unknown sources of pollution in California, according to
The massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill played a major role, too,
often closing beaches in the Gulf region. The report also noted
that the BP spill continues to take a toll on water quality in the
Gulf. By the end of January, 83 miles of coastline were still
contaminated with oil and tar balls, and oil continues to wash
Overall, the report showed that monitoring samples had signs of
contamination about 8 percent of the time, meaning that beaches
were unsafe, said Jon Devine, senior attorney at the NRDC.
The geographic area with the most frequently contaminated
beaches in 2010 was the Great Lakes -- 15 percent of water samples
violated public health standards.
The southeast United States, the New York-New Jersey coast and
Delaware/Maryland/Virginia region were the cleanest at 4 percent, 5
percent and 6 percent, respectively, according to the report.
States with the highest rates of contamination were Louisiana
(37 percent), Ohio (21 percent) and Indiana (16 percent). Those
with the lowest rates last year were New Hampshire (1 percent), New
Jersey (2 percent), Oregon (3 percent), Hawaii (3 percent) and
Delaware (3 percent).
The report also cited the "Top 10 Repeat Offenders" -- beaches
that were deemed unhealthy more than one-quarter of the time from
2006 to 2010. California led the list:
The report lauded four beaches that got the highest ratings for
water quality and followed the "best practices" for water
monitoring and notification of the public when problems
Devine said it was possible to do more to improve water quality
at the beach, but it requires a big effort across communities, not
just where the water begins.
"Cities and communities around the country are proving that investing in smarter, greener infrastructure and practices on the land -- things like porous pavement, green roofs and roadside plantings -- will make a real difference," Devine told HealthDay. Some of these approaches are designed to limit runoff from rainfall by allowing water to seep back into the land or be stored.
Monitoring practices can be improved too, Devine added, through
more frequent testing of water quality and outreach to the public
about the results. In some cases, beaches are polluted for some
time before monitoring systems detect a problem.
Adina Paytan, a research professor and marine scientist at the
University of California, Santa Cruz, said the new report seems
accurate and its conclusions are valid. There are challenges to be
met, she said, including the cost of preventing beach
Paytan added that it would be helpful to understand how the
expenses of pollution prevention compare to the possible financial
benefits of cleaner beaches, such as economic savings in affected
For more about
beach pollution, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
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