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Pollution Prompts Record Beach Closings

Beaches With Cleanest and Dirtiest Water Cited in Report
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 8, 2007 -- Beaches in the U.S. were considered unsafe for swimming a record number of days last year due to water pollution, according to a leading environmental group.

In its annual report on the health of the nation's beaches, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that high bacteria levels prompted closings or swimming advisories at more than 1,600 of the 3,500 monitored ocean and freshwater beaches in 2006.

The number of days beaches were closed or under advisories increased by 28% over 2005 levels, but NRDC water program director Nancy Stoner tells WebMD that not all the news is bad.

She says some of the increase was attributable to better monitoring of beach water quality by public health officials. And unusually heavy rainfalls in Hawaii led to big increases in beach closings and advisories in that state.

"If you take out Hawaii, which was hopefully an aberration, we still saw a 7% increase in beach closings and advisories, though," she says. "There are many things we could be doing to improve this."

Beach Buddies, Beach Bums

The NRDC has been issuing its report on beach water quality annually for 17 years. But for the first time in 2006 the group highlighted the beaches it considers at highest risk for water contamination because they are very popular, are located close to pollution sources, or both.

Ninety-two high-risk beaches in 19 states were found to exceed health standards for water quality more than 25% of the time.

Beaches labeled "beach buddies" in the report -- because they were among the nation's cleanest and best-monitored -- included:

  • North Carolina's Kure and Kill Devil Hills beaches
  • Wisconsin's Sister Bay and North beaches
  • California's Laguna Beach
  • Michigan's Grand Haven City Beach and Grand Haven State Park beaches
  • Main's Libby Cove, Mother's, Middle, Cape Neddick, Short Sands, and York Harbor beaches

These beaches were found to violate public health standards less than 10% of the time, compared with more than 51% of the time among beaches identified as the nation's most polluted.

Beaches with this dubious distinction, which earned them the title "beach bums," included:

  • California's Avalon and Venice State beaches
  • Maryland's Hacks and Bay Country beaches
  • New Jersey's Beachwood Beach West
  • Illinois' Jackson Park Beach
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