The Best (and Worst) U.S. Beaches

The sand is white. The water is so blue. But is your favorite beach pristine? Clean? Even safe?

Before you load up the car with the beach chairs, sunblock, cooler and kids you might want to check out the Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) annual beach report, Testing the Waters, released today. You can see photos on the NRDC Flickr page of risky Repeat Offenders and beautiful Superstars.

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The 23rd annual beachwater quality report gives consumers a look at the cleanest—and dirtiest beaches—in the U.S. It’s based on analyses from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other state beach coordinators at more than 3,000 beach testing locations (including the Great Lakes). “It’s important for public health,” says NRDC senior attorney John Devine. “This report will tell consumers how many times a beach has been closed, and why it was closed. It gives them an opportunity to understand what pollutants are in their beach waters which might make them sick.”

“Testing the Waters” employs a 5-star rating guide to 200 of the nation’s popular beaches, evaluating them for both water quality and best practices for testing and public notification. In the current report, 13 beaches are designated a 5-star “Superstar” rating, and 11 “Repeat Offenders” are identified. Superstar beaches have their water quality tested more than once a week, and the public is notified promptly (both at the beach and online) when bacteria levels jeopardized health standards. The NRDC singled out Repeat Offenders, on the other hand, for repeatedly having chronically high bacteria counts in their water.

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The data collected looks at the specific number (or level) of bacteria in the water because it can cause  illnesses such as upper-respiratory infections, stomach flu, skin rashes and even hepatitis. Swimmers may get sick but often don’t report their ailments—or link them to recent trips to the beach. One way chemicals, debris and other pollutants make their way into local waters, including drinking and swimming water, is stormwater runoff.

The best part of Testing the Waters is how easy it it to find your own local beach. The NRDC has an easy-to-use tool—you just plug in your zip code, beach name and/or state, and you can find out 2012 results in your local area. Want to know more? Read NRDC’s Guide to Finding a Clean Beach and check out local public health authorities in your city, county, or state.

A day at the beach is one of the wonders of summer. Now you can make sure your beach is not only beautiful and fun but safe and clean for every swimmer.


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