According to the 19th annual beachwater quality report released today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the water at American beaches was seriously polluted and jeopardized the health of swimmers last year. The number of closings and advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches numbered more than 20,000 for the fourth consecutive year.
Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, NRDC’s report – Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches – confirms that our nation’s beachwaters continue to suffer from serious contamination – including human and animal waste – that can make people sick.
To access the report please click HERE.
NRDC’s report also provides a 5-star rating guide for 200 of the nation’s most popular beaches, based on indicators of beachwater quality, monitoring frequency, and public notification of contamination.
For the first time, the Testing the Waters report this year explores the effects of climate change on beachwater quality, revealing that climate change is expected to make pollution worse. The combined effects of temperature increases, and more frequent and intense rainstorms, will lead to increased stormwater runoff, sewer pollution and disease-causing pathogens in nearby waterways. Specifically, climate change is anticipated to influence the presence of pathogens that cause stomach flu, diarrhea and neurological problems in America’s beachwater.
Beachwater pollution makes swimmers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses including 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.
The NRDC report emphasizes that the best way to protect swimmers from beachwater pollution is to prevent it. Federal, state and local governments can make this a priority by requiring better controls on stormwater and sewage, the two largest known sources of beachwater pollution. A key solution is to utilize low impact development techniques in communities to retain and filter rainwater where it falls, letting it soak back into the ground rather than running off into waterways. This includes 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.
The Clean Coastal Environment and Public Health Act pending in Congress would provide money for more beachwater sampling and require use of faster testing methods so people get timely information about whether it is safe to swim. Additionally, 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.
For more information on this excellent report please contact NRDC’s Nancy Stoner atNstoner@NRDC.org.