Ecology And Environment

Most Polluted Beaches in the us

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Living in an area or taking a vacation to an area where there are beaches may sound exciting. However, there are beaches in the United States that are so polluted that it may lead to second thoughts about venturing into the water or even staking the umbrella in the sand.

There are multiple reasons for beach pollution

In 2011 alone, the pollution of U.S. beaches resulted in 23,481 closings and swimming advisories. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that those numbers reflects the third highest number of beach closing and advisories since the NRDC began its ‘Testing the Waters’ over two decades ago. The NRDC also says that even regular monitoring of beaches does not necessarily “protect the public against the full range of waterborne illnesses or to protect sensitive populations." Huff Post Green quoted NRDC attorney Jon Devine, who stated in a press release that, “Our beaches are plagued by a sobering legacy of water pollution.”

While some beachgoers may feel that beaches are always safe, beaches can hide a wealth a microorganisms that can make people ill. One of the most common cause of beach pollution is storm waters. When it rains, sewage runoff can pollute beaches, exposing swimmers to pathogens such as viruses, protozoans and bacteria. While most polluted beach-related illness such as gastroenteritis can be minor, for at-risk populations, such as children, the elderly and those with weakened immune systems, the dangers can be much higher. Conditions such as hepatitis and cholera can result from more polluted beaches, as explained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Other illnesses such as meningitis, respiratory infections and a variety of skin rashes can result when exposed to contaminants at polluted beaches.

After a heavy rain, beaches can be contaminated with raw sewage, pollutants that are picked up from land and carried into beach waters, trash, animal droppings, human waste and many other sources. For some beaches, such contamination has made them among the most polluted beaches in the U.S.

Repeat offenders continue to pollute beach waters

There is a top 15 list of repeat offenders “with persistent contamination problems.” Samples taken from these beaches have violated public health safety standards for beaches in more than 25% of the samples taken in each of the years from 2007 through 2011.

In Los Angeles County, California, three of the five monitored sections of Avalon Beach continues to be a problem and is listed on the NDRC “Repeat Offender List.” Also in California, three of six monitored sections of Doheny State Beach in Orange County has been labeled as repeat offender areas.

The State of Louisiana has four beaches on the repeat offenders list of consistently contaminated waters. All the offending beaches are in Cameron County and includes Gulf Beach, Little Florida, Rutherford Beach and Gulf Breeze Beach.

New York has two beaches that are on the list of 15 repeat offenders. Those beaches are Ontario Beach in Monroe County and the Woodlawn Beach which is located in the Woodlawn State Park in Erie County, New York. Another state with two repeat offenders is Illinois. The Cook County beach, Winnetka Elder Park Beach and the North Point Marina North Beach in Lake County both are repeat offenders,

New Jersey rounds out the top 15 repeat offender beaches with contamination problems with Beachwood Beach West, located in Ocean County.

The same NRDC article also posts a list of 'The Nation's 13 5-Star Beaches.'

Most polluted beaches may be surprising

While it may be assumed that the most polluted beaches would be in California or perhaps Florida, both states with a multitude of beaches open for personal enjoyment, the two states with the highest number of polluted beaches may be surprising to some individuals. The state with the highest number of polluted beaches is Louisiana. Since the BP oil spill, Louisiana now ranks highest in the nation with the most polluted beaches. Of 30 tested states, Louisiana ranked 30th in beach water quality. NRDC says that 29% of samples taken from beaches in Louisiana “exceeded national standards for designated beach areas in 2011.” NRDC demonstrates the key findings in a graph depicting the ‘Louisiana 2011 Beachwater Quality Summary.’

What may be most surprising in the 2011 findings is that while some individuals may assume that the contamination still results from the Gulf Oil Spill, statistics from NRDC indicates that only 3% of the pollution that resulted in beach closings or advisories was actually attributed to the BP Oil Spill. The remaining 97% of contamination was from “unknown sources.” While there is no doubt that significant pollution of Louisiana’s beaches was caused by the oil spill, especially early on, there have been other factors which may have an effect on pollution of Louisiana’s beaches. Hurricane Isaac caused considerable damage and more problems related to the 2010 oil spill. A CBS News report revealed that oil washing up on Louisiana beaches after Isaac were from the BP oil spill. A BP official said that the storm made the buried oil visible and therefore easier to clean up. Cameron Parish and St. Mary’s Parish were the sites of the highest pollution on beaches in Louisiana, followed by Calcasieu.

The beaches along the Great Lakes that are the most polluted are in the State of Ohio. In ‘Ohio beaches still second worst in country among coastline states,’ Cleveland Plain Dealer journalist Doug Brown explains, in an article at, that among samples taken from waters of 62 beaches along Lake Erie in 2011, 22% of the samples “exceeded public health standards,” an increase of 1% over the previous year and nearly three times the national rate. Brown quoted Frank Greenland of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District as saying that ‘With increased rainfall, comes increased storm water runoff, bringing more pollutant sources.” Green also stated that “The overflow of raw sewage to area waterways is a huge problem.”

The NRDC indicates that “the survival of the Great Lakes and our intimate relationship with its waters are under attack by forces outside and within the lakes. From their shores, increasingly violent weather overwhelms crumbling infrastructure, dumping tainted runoff into our precious waters. Under the water's surface, invasive species spread unchecked, decimating the food web and destabilizing the ecosystem, while algal blooms ooze onto beaches.”

In April 2013, President Barack Obama released his 2014 budget, maintaining support for the Great Lakes Restorative Initiative, which says will continue to “clean up toxic pollution, confront invasive species, restore habitat and prevent runoff from cities and farms.”

How to find safe beaches

Browsing the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) at the Natural Resources Defense Council will no doubt provide valuable insight into beaches throughout the United States, as well as discovering how to find a clean beach with less pollution. When beach lovers research their favorite beaches and when families on vacation take the time to learn about beaches in certain areas, individuals and entire families may be able to minimize the potential for being affected by contaminants that affect beach pollution and can cause illness, which can be serious, particularly for at-risk populations.

More about this author: Donna Hicks

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