Share This Page

Some U.S. beaches deemed harmful

| Thursday, June 26, 2014, 8:45 p.m.

Every summer, millions of American families head for beaches, but few stop to think of the possibility that the water they swim in may harbor enough bacteria to cause stomach flu and a host of other illnesses.

The Natural Resources Defense Council found that 10 percent of water quality samples collected from nearly 3,500 coastal and Great Lakes beaches in 2013 contained levels of harmful bacteria that exceeded “safe to swim” thresholds recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. The findings — published this week in the NRDC's 24th annual report on beach water quality — confirm that serious water pollution persists at many U.S. beaches, largely the result of stormwater runoff and sewage overflows that carry human and animal waste into waters where people swim, surf and sail.

“Too many people get sick when they go in the water,” said Steve Fleischli, NRDC water program director. The findings are little changed during the last five years of testing, he said.

The EPA encourages the issuing of advisories for beaches and lakes where water quality exceeds what it calls a “Beach Action Value,” a threshold model for assessing water quality.

“It is not a federal mandate at this point. It should be. But EPA is moving in the right direction,” said Fleischli.

Illnesses associated with polluted beach water include stomach flu, skin rashes, pink eye, respiratory infections, meningitis and hepatitis. Children are especially vulnerable, as they tend to submerge their heads more often than adults and are more likely to swallow water when swimming, the report said.

One analysis found that fecal contamination at Los Angeles and Orange County beaches causes between 627,800 and 1,479,200 excess gastrointestinal illnesses each year, the NRDC said.

The report lists both some “superstar” beaches, that have routinely met water quality standards during the past five years, and “repeat offenders,” which are beaches showing persistent contamination problems, according to the NRDC.

Among the superstars: Gulf Shores Public Beach in Alabama; Tybee Island North in Georgia; Back Bay Beach in Virginia; and Po'ipu Beach Park in Kauai, Hawaii.

The list of beaches with repeated contamination problems included seven in Ohio; three in New York; two in Indiana; and one each in California, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Wisconsin, according to the report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.