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Gulf Oil Spill's Toll on Nation's Beaches

Report Cites Thousands of Beach Closings, Advisories, and a Host of Possible Health Problems

2009 Beach Water Quality Ratings continued...

Beachgoers should check the Internet for water advisories before packing up the car and heading to the surf. "Stay away from beaches with visible pollution and don't swim after a heavy rainfall," Devine says. "Give it at least a day so [pollutants] break down," he says. This is especially important for people who are vulnerable to contaminated beach water, such as small children, elderly people, pregnant women, and people with cancer or weakened immune systems.

Look for pipes along the beach that drain storm water runoff from the streets, and don't swim near them, he says.

Improvements in the water monitoring system can also help keep beachcombers safer, Devine says.

The current water surveillance program only looks for a couple of bugs that cause gastrointestinal illness. "We can do a lot better about identifying a broader range of potential contaminants at the beach," he tells WebMD. 

Another area that needs improvement is the speed at which water quality is tested, he says. It takes 24 hours to get water quality results. "In essence, it's a day old so it applies to yesterday's water."

Curious how your favorite beach stacks up? Visit www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/ttw/200beaches.asp.

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