When you're daydreaming about a trip to the shore this summer -- I'm guessing human or animal waste in the waves that can send you running to the bathroom, doctor's office -- or worse -- the emergency room, isn't part of the picture. Am I right?
Unfortunately, that is reality, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council's 19th annual Testing the Waters report that was released today.
Beachwater pollution can give swimmers the stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, ear, nose and throat problems, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments, neurological disorders and other serious health problems. For senior citizens, small children, and people with weak immune systems, the results can be fatal. But don't let it bum you out. There are things you can do to keep you and your family from getting sick at the beach, as well as improve beachwater quality.
Read on to see how your favorite beach stacked up in our *5-STAR RATING GUIDE TO 200 POPULAR U.S. BEACHES* and get an overview of this year's results!
5-STAR GUIDE TO AMERICA'S BEACHES
The report's 5-star rating guide ranks 200 of the nation's most popular beaches based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency, and public notification to protect beachgoers from contamination. Check out the complete list here to see how your favorite beach fared!
WHAT'S CLIMATE CHANGE GOT TO DO WITH IT?
For the first time ever, the Testing the Waters report this year also explores the effects of climate change on beachwater quality, revealing that it is expected to make pollution worse. Temperature increases, and more frequent and intense rainstorms, will lead to increased stormwater runoff, sewer pollution and disease-causing pathogens -- including those that cause stomach flu, diarrhea and neurological problems -- in America's beachwater.
HOW CLEAN WERE AMERICA'S BEACHES IN 2008?
Last year there were more than 20,000 closing and advisory days issued at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches for the fourth consecutive year. Seven percent of beachwater samples violated health standards nationwide, indicating fecal contamination and showing no improvement from the last two years. From 2005-2008, the Great Lakes have consistently tested the dirtiest, while the Southeast and Delmarva Peninsula proved relatively cleaner than other regions. The primary pollution sources, stormwater runoff after heavy rains (responsible for 38 percent of closing & advisory days) and sewage pollution (responsible for 8 percent) continue to be serious problems that haven't been addressed. For the full report, go to www.nrdc.org/beaches.
There's a wide variety of things that can be done to improve outlook for America's waves.
- Prevention is the best way to protect swimmers from beachwater pollution. Federal, state and local governments can make this a priority by requiring better controls on stormwater and sewage, the two largest known sources of pollution. Key solutions include upgrading sewage treatment facilities and using low impact development techniques that retain and filter rainwater where it falls and let it soak back into the ground, rather than runoff it into waterways (i.e. strategically placed rain gardens in yards, tree boxes on city sidewalks, green roofs that use absorbent vegetation on top of buildings, and permeable pavement that allows water to penetrate the material, instead of asphalt or concrete).
- Climate legislation: The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) that recently passed the House of Representatives will help communities prepare for further impacts of climate change on coastal communities such as flooding, sea level rise, increased stormwater pollution and sewer overflows, in addition to capping global warming pollution.
- Better testing: The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act pending in Congress would provide money for more beachwater sampling and for finding and cleaning up sources of beachwater pollution. It would also require use of faster testing methods so people get timely information about whether it is safe to swim.
- Simple steps in your daily life: Individuals can help clean up beach pollution by picking up pet waste, maintaining septic systems, putting plastic pants on babies, keeping trash off the beach, and properly disposing of household toxics, used motor oil and boating wastes.
Stay healthy this summer -- and help us clean up our beachwater for our vacations to come. Check out NRDC's website for more information: http://www.nrdc.org/beaches.
This post originally appeared on NRDC"s Switchboard blog.