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How Safe Is Your Local Beach?

Report card rates cleanest and most contaminated beaches across U.S.

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Beach water pollution also can cause skin rashes; pinkeye (conjunctivitis); respiratory ailments; hepatitis; neurological disorders; ear, nose and throat problems; and other serious health problems, according to the NRDC.

Twelve beaches received five-star ratings based on indicators of beach water quality, monitoring frequency and public-notification policies about contamination, including Hampton Beach State Park in New Hampshire and San Clemente State Beach in California.

Among the 13 worst beaches in 2012 were New York's Ontario Beach, as well as Avalon Beach on Catalina Island in California. Some of the beaches cited as having persistent contamination problems are large, with only certain sections considered worrisome, the NRDC noted.

Fleischli said two actions are critical to improve the health of the nation's beaches: clean up polluted water by using green infrastructure (such as swales to corral storm water runoff, porous pavement, green roofs and rainwater barrels) and get the EPA to improve its standards for judging beach water quality. "The EPA recently revised its standards, allowing one in 28 people to get sick at beaches that are supposedly safe," he said.

Beachgoers can help protect themselves from getting sick, according to the NRDC, by doing the following:

  • Swimming only at beaches where authorities test the water frequently and close the beach or issue an advisory when it is polluted.
  • Staying out of the water when there are closings or advisories.
  • Avoiding swimming at beaches with nearby discharge pipes or at urban beaches after a heavy rainfall.
  • Avoiding putting your head under the water and not swimming if you have an open wound or infection.

Devine suggested beachgoers check the local public-health department's website for recent water-testing information. "Then, when you get to the beach, use common sense," he said. "Is the water murky? Does it smell bad? If so, don't swim in it."

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