06/29/2011 05:48 pm ET Updated Aug 29, 2011

Beach Contamination: The United States' Worst Offenders

Going to the beach for the day generally conjures up images of big sun hats, sandcastles, guilty pleasure summer reading and, of course -- splashing around in the water. Carefree, right? According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), we should be thinking about the quality of that water.

A report, Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, released by the nonprofit environmental organization today, highlights the levels of pollution that exist in some of our favorite vacation spots. The NRDC gathered data from 3,200 beaches across the country. What they found was that beach closings and safety advisories occurred 24,901 times in 2010 -- and more than 70 percent of these incidents were due to the water’s bacterial contamination.

The report points to poor sewage treatment systems and contaminated stormwater as the main causes of beachwater pollution. Much of the 29 percent increase in these advisories and beach closings can be accounted for by the BP oil spill and heavier levels of rainfall that went on in Hawaii.

Since beachgoers both expose their skin to this water and often ingest it, this information is cause for concern. Contaminated water can pose a host of health risks to people including rashes, vomiting, bowel issues and other serious infections.

The NRDC believes that these results warrant action on a federal level. “There are pollution problems that lead to beach contaminations, closures and advisories that have not been adequately dealt with at the national scale,” Jon Devine, senior attorney for NRDC told msnbc.com. “There are a number of opportunities at the national level to clean up those sources.”

To encourage the public to be informed about the water quality of their local beaches, the NRDC’s report included a list of the best and worst beaches, rated by water quality over the last few years as well as vigilance when it comes consistent water testing and communication with the public about any health risks.

The “Top 10 Repeat Offenders” list highlights beaches that have had “persistent contamination problems with water samples exceeding public health standards more than 25 percent of the time … from 2006 to 2010.” On the other side of the scale, four beaches made the “Superstar Beaches” list.

Read on for the full list of "Superstar Beaches" and "Top 10 Repeat Offenders" (some of the beaches were tested by section and only certain sections made this list). How does your local beach hold up?