Does Your Beach Pass the Clean Water Test?
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Does Your Beach Pass the Clean Water Test?

Flickr/Oliver Beattie

The beaches with the cleanest water in the country are not necessarily the ones you might think  – according to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a non-profit advocacy group.

“Sewage and contaminated runoff in the water should never ruin a family beach trip,” said the NRDC in a press release. “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.”

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That illness carries a serious cost. NRDC says one study claims economic losses resulting from closing a polluted Lake Michigan beach could be as high as $37,000 a day. A California study puts the health costs of gastrointestinal illness caused by poor water quality at $21 to $51 million a year.

Ten percent of the water quality samples collected by the NRDC in the past year – taken from 3,500 coastal and Great Lakes beaches – contained bacteria levels that failed to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s benchmark for swimmer safety. That’s led the NRDC to conclude that serious water pollution persists. Storm water runoff and sewage overflows are typically the largest sources of the problem.

Here are some of the most surprising findings from the NRDC report:

1. California has just one beach on the list of those with the cleanest water: the 38th Street portion of Newport Beach in Orange County.

2. The West Coast has just two beaches listed as having the cleanest water: Newport Beach and Westhaven State Park in Washington State.

3. New Jersey has the most beaches with the cleanest water, with a total of seven beaches on the list. Five of those are in Cape May County. Other states with some of the cleanest beach water include Delaware and New Hampshire.

4. All three Florida beaches on the list of beaches with the cleanest water are on the Gulf of Mexico.

5. The only other beaches with the cleanest water on the Gulf of Mexico are in Alabama.

6. Ohio has the dirtiest beach water of all states: Seven of its beaches have some of the dirtiest water, all on Lake Erie. It’s followed by Alaska and Mississippi.

The 35 beaches with the cleanest water, which the NRDC calls the nation’s “superstar beaches,” can all be found here. Each of these beaches met national water quality benchmarks 98 percent of the time over the past five years.

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The NRDC also listed the nation’s 17 beaches that have stood out in the past five years for having persistent contamination problems, with their water samples failing to meet public health benchmarks more than 25 percent of the time.

The EPA estimates that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from overflow every year. Waterborne illnesses in swimmers typically include stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye and respiratory ailments.

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