Visiting the beach? think again…

Yesterday we reported on the swarms of jellyfish forcing authorities to close beaches in the Mediterranean. Today it emerges that a record number of American beaches were off-limits last year due to pollution levels, as revealed by a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, and these numbers are expected to rise in 2007.

The 17th annual beach water quality report counted more than 25,000 closing and health advisory days at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches in 2006, 1,301 of which were caused by sewage spills and overflows. Nancy Stoner, director of NRDC’s Water Program, commented that “Vacations are being ruined. Families can’t use the beaches in their own communities because they are polluted. Kids are getting sick – all because of sewage and contaminated runoff from outdated, under-funded treatment systems.”

Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Rhode Island, and Minnesota ranked the worst for failing to meet national health standards, and aging and poorly-designed sewage and storm water systems are accorded much of the blame for beach water pollution. Record rainfall in 2006 compounded these problems, adding to the strain on an already overloaded infrastructure. The risks to individuals of polluted beaches and seas include gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments and other serious health problems.

The problem is now so bad that Stoner advises families considering visiting a US beach to call the local public health authority in advance.

Hope for the future lies in a new piece of legislation, the Beach Protection Act of 2007, introduced in the U.S. Congress in May. If passed, the Act will mandate the use of rapid testing methods to detect beach water contamination in two hours or less so that beachgoers can be notified of public health risks promptly. Unless action is taken, this problem could mean the end of the North American beach holiday.