Just in time for the largest beach weekend of the year, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s annual report indicates that beach pollution is a growing problem for our public health.
Per the NRDC report, 2010 had the second-highest level of beach closings in the last 21 years with 21.091 days closed. This marks a 29 percent increase from 2009.
Heavy rainfall in Hawaii, unknown contamination in California, and oil washing up in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP disaster are the main factors for the increase.
Seventy percent of the beach closings were issued because there were high levels of indicator bacteria in the water, pointing to a higher than healthy concentration of human waste.
Sewage overflows and storm water runoff are the main source of water pollution. Eight percent of beach water samples nationwide exceeded public health standards in 2010, compared to 7 percent for the previous four years.
Water quality has a direct link to public heath. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 3.5 million people become ill from contact with contaminated water. According to the U.S. Department of Health, swimming in contaminated water can cause vomiting, diarrhea, eye infections and other serious health problems.
Per the NRDC report, in 2010 the Great Lakes had the most frequently contaminated beach water––15 percent of beach water samples there exceeded public health standards. The southeast, the New York-New Jersey coast and Delmarva region had the cleanest water, with only 4 percent, 5 percent and 6 percent of samples, respectively, exceeding health standards. The report also cited the top 10 worst offenders:
- California: Avalon Beach in Los Angeles County
- California: Cabrillo Beach Station in Los Angeles County
- California: Doheny State Beach in Orange County
- Florida: Keaton Beach in Taylor County
- Illinois: North Point Marina North Beach in Lake County
- New Jersey: Beachwood Beach West in Ocean County
- Ohio: Villa Angela State Park in Cuyahoga County
- Texas:Ropes Park in Nueces County
- Wisconsin: Eichelman beach in Kenosha County
- Wisconsin: South Shore Beach in Milwaukee
The NRDC report focuses on 2010, but 2011 has also seen its share of environmental beach closures.
The Great Lakes area and California continue to have trouble. Long Beach, California closed beaches earlier in the year because sewage released into the L.A. River had contaminated Long Beach ocean water.
In May, Singing Bridge Beach in Michigan had high levels of E. coli bacteria in the water, which was an ongoing issue for the beach and prompted multiple closures in 2010.
Rock Dam Beach in Neillsville, Wisconsin and Pinconning Park Beach in Michigan were also closed last month due to bacteria. Additionally, high levels of bacteria have closed beaches in Kentucky’s Trigg County, Long Island in New York, and Virginia’s Norfolk beaches.
When planning beach trips over the holiday weekend, it’s always good to check the local news and online reports. Jon Devine, senior attorney for the NRDC, cautions that since water sampling and testing results take about a day to perform. Devine cautions “at best, today people know yesterday’s water quality.”
If you are visiting a beach with a history of contamination, keep your eyes open.
Steer clear of fall out from pipes and other open drainage. Also check for signs, beach managers might post a notice of concern prior to shutting down a beach.
By Lily J. Kosner for PeterGreenberg.com.
Related Links on PeterGreenberg.com:
- Obama Goes Green, Travel Industry Cries Foul
- Everglades National Park: An Eco-Travel Vacation In Florida
- Vermont’s Lake Champlain At Center Of Don’t Go There Controversy
- Climate Changing Travel
- Beach Vacations section