Polluted Waters Afflict Many US Beaches - CA Leads The Way
By Angelique Chrisafis - The Guardian (London)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Swimming off many popular U.S beaches may be bad for your health, according to a report released on Thursday, that showed a rise over the past decade in the number of beaches closed due to water pollution.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit environmental group, said in its annual beach quality report issued to coincide with the busy summer holiday season that at least 6,160 warnings and beach closures were issued last year.
``Too many of our beaches are contaminated ... a day at the beach should not be followed by a day at the doctor,'' said the director of the NRDC's Water Project, Nancy Stoner.
Swimming in polluted waters may cause a variety of illnesses ranging from fever and gastroenteritis to ear infections and respiratory problems. These symptoms are more serious in the elderly and very young.
Stoner said clean water was very valuable to the U.S. economy, supporting a $50 billion a year water-based recreation industry and more than $100 billion a year in tourism dollars.
``Reducing beach water pollution is an investment that makes sense, not only because of the economic value of clean water but also because beach water pollution makes people sick,'' she told a news conference to release the report.
The report said the number of beaches either closed or with warning labels had risen by 50 percent from 1997, but was lower than in 1998 when an usually high number of beaches were affected by heavy rains from the El Nino weather phenomenon.
NRDC beach project director, Sarah Chasis, said that in 1999 most coastal areas suffered from drought and so while there were fewer closings and advisories than in 1998, there was no reason to celebrate.
``Closings and advisories continue to occur at record levels,'' Chasis said. ``There were still more than 6,000 closings and the 10-year trend is steady -- the number is going up,'' she said, adding that the rise could also be attributed to better monitoring and involvement in beach quality surveys.
Of the 32 states in the study, California accounted for more than half of the beach closures and warnings issued in 1999, with 3,547, followed by Florida with 671. Inland state Ohio recorded 257 while the U.S. Virgin Islands had 307.
Inconsistent monitoring of the nation's beaches remained a problem, said Chasis, pointing out that even if a state regularly tested its waters it might not close beaches when a problem arose.
More than two-thirds of beach closings and warnings last year were due to high bacteria levels in the water. Others were a result of pollution caused by sewage treatment plant failures, for example, or by heavy rains that carry pollution into swimming waters.
Poor Prevention
``The bad news is that the growing number of advisories and closings indicate that too little is being done to prevent beach pollution, especially from sources such as storm water and sewage,'' said Chasis.
Stoner called for Congress to pass a federal beach bill enforcing stricter rules that is still pending in the Senate and urged President Clinton to live up to a promise he made for federal rules to eliminate raw sewage discharge.
The study issued a ``Beach Bum'' list for states that did not regularly monitor ocean or bay beach water for swimming safety. These were Louisiana, Oregon, Texas and Washington states.
``Beach buddies'' -- places were beaches were monitored more than once a week and closed when needed -- were East Haven Town Beach in Connecticut, North Beach and Oceanside at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland, Revere Beach and Short Beach in Massachusetts.
Only 11 states comprehensively monitored most or all of their beaches and notified the public. These are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania."

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