Online tool helps beachgoers avoid dirty waters

Thu Jun 28, 2012 1:07pm EDT
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By Salimah Ebrahim

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - If you plan on hitting the beach this summer, a new report recommends first checking your local water quality online before packing your bags - or risk bringing home more trouble than wet bathing suits and sand-filled shoes.

Last year was one of the worst on record in terms of bacterial pollution from human and animal waste, according to the nonprofit Natural Resource Defense Council's (NRDC) 22nd annual survey of water quality at over 3,000 U.S. beaches.

State and local beach officials reported the third-highest number of closings and advisory days in over 20 years. The impact of sewage and stormwater runoff on swimmers include diarrhea, pink eye, ear, nose and throat problems, respiratory ailments and several neurological disorders.

To make the information easier to access, NRDC debuted a new online tool at that allows the public to search beaches by postal zip code. An application for mobile devices is also in the works.

"Having that information when you're planning the trip is far more important than when you've taken the trip," said Steve Fleischli, Director of NRDC's Water Program.

The report shows how water quality levels vary significantly across the country. Delaware, not usually the first state that jumps to mind for many when thinking of fun in the sun, nonetheless had beaches reporting the lowest water contamination levels in the country, while Louisiana pollution has for consecutive years violated federal beach water standards.

In California, the picture was mixed. Five beaches, including Newport and Huntington State Beaches in Orange County, for example, were awarded NRDC's 5-star rating out of the dozen others, nationally, that received the top honor.

However, eight of the state's beaches appeared on a list of the nation's 15 worst "Repeat Offenders" for violating public health standards.   Continued...

People swim and play in the Atlantic Ocean at Coney Island in the Brooklyn borough of New York July 21, 2011. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton