© Sergiy Bykhunenko -

Beach bums take note: 10% of water samples from U.S. beaches contained bacteria levels that failed to meet federal benchmarks for swimmer safety, according to the 24th annual beach report released by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip,” said NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine. “But no matter where you live, urban slobber and other pollution can seriously compromise the water quality at your favorite beach and make your family sick."

Each year, the NRDC collects and analyzes water testing results from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state beach coordinators at nearly 3,500 beach testing locations nationwide.

This year, the report found 35 popular “superstar” beaches with excellent water quality, and flagged 17 “repeat offenders” that exhibited chronic water pollution problems. The full report, including a Zip Code-searchable map can be found here.

Superstar beaches      

NRDC designated 35 popular beaches across 14 states as “superstars” – popular beaches for consistently meeting water quality safety thresholds. Each of these beaches met national water quality benchmarks 98% of the time over the past five years:

  • Alabama: Gulf Shores Public Beach in Baldwin County
  • Alabama: Gulf State Park Pavilion in Baldwin County
  • Alabama:  Dauphin Island Public Beach
  • California: Newport Beach in Orange County (1 of 3 monitored sections)
    • Newport Beach - 38th Street
  • Delaware: Dewey Beach-Swedes in Sussex County
  • Florida: Bowman’s Beach in Lee County
  • Florida: Coquina Beach South in Manatee County
  • Florida: Fort Desoto North Beach in Pinellas County
  • Georgia: Tybee Island North in Chatham County
  • Hawaii: Hapuna Beach St. Rec. Area in Big Island       
  • Hawaii: Po’ipu Beach Park in Kauai
  • Hawaii: Wailea Beach Park in Maui
  • Massachusetts: Singing Beach in Essex County
  • Maryland: Point Lookout State Park in St Mary's County
  • Maryland: Assateague State Park in Worcester County
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Main St. and Sunset Blvd. in Brunswick County
  • North Carolina: Beach at Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in Dare County
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Salisbury Street in Wrightsville Beach in New Hanover  
  • North Carolina: Ocean Pier at Ocean Blvd. and Crews Ave. in Topsail Beach in Pender County           
  • New Hampshire: Hampton Beach State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands Beach at Wallis Rd. in Rockingham County
  • New Hampshire: Wallis Sands State Park in Rockingham County
  • New Jersey: Washington (Margate) in Atlantic County
  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Avalon) in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: 40th St. (Sea Isle City) in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Stone Harbor at 96th St. in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Upper Township at Webster Rd. in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Wildwood Crest at Orchid in Cape May County
  • New Jersey: Broadway (Pt. Pleasant Beach) in Ocean County
  • New York: Long Beach City in Nassau County
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 28th St. in Virginia Beach County    
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach at 45th St in Virginia Beach County
  • Virginia: Back Bay Beach in Virginia Beach County
  • Virginia: Virginia Beach - Little Island Beach North in Virginia Beach County
  • Washington: Westhaven State Park, South Jetty in Grays Harbor          

Repeat offenders

Over the last five years of the NRDC report, sections of 17 U.S. beaches have stood out as having persistent contamination problems, with water samples failing to meet public health benchmarks more than 25% of the time each year from 2009 to 2013:

  • California: Malibu Pier, 50 yards east of the pier, in Los Angeles County
  • Indiana: Jeorse Park Beach in Lake County (both monitored sections):
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach I 
    • Lake Jeorse Park Beach II
  • Massachusetts: Cockle Cove Creek in Barnstable County
  • Maine: Goodies Beach in Knox County
  • New Jersey: Beachwood Beach in Ocean County
  • New York: Main Street Beach in Chautauqua County
  • New York: Wright Park – East in Chautauqua County
  • New York: Ontario Beach in Monroe County
  • Ohio: Lakeshore Park in Ashtabula County
  • Ohio: Arcadia Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Euclid State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Noble Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Sims Beach in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Villa Angela State Park in Cuyahoga County
  • Ohio: Edson Creek in Erie County
  • Wisconsin: South Shore Beach in Milwaukee County

Based on EPA’s BAV safety threshold, the Great Lakes region had the highest failure rate of beach water quality samples, with 13% of samples failing to pass the safety test in 2013. The Delmarva region had the lowest failure rate, with 4% of samples failing the safety test. In between were the Gulf Coast (12%), New England (11%), the Western Coast (9%), the New York and New Jersey coasts (7%), and the Southeast (7%).

Individual states with the highest failure rates of reported water samples in 2013 were Ohio (35%), Alaska (24%) and Mississippi (21%). Those with the lowest failure rates last year were Delaware (3%), New Hampshire (3%) and New Jersey (3%).

The EPA estimates that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from sanitary overflows each year. Beach water pollution nationwide causes a range of waterborne illnesses in swimmers 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 even be fatal.

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