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How Clean is Your Beach?

Scott Vogel

If you're planning a beach vacation near or far -- and who isn't at this time of year? -- do yourself a favor and peruse a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council that was just released this morning. The study I'm referring to, Testing the Waters 2008, a report on beach water quality, is an annual event of sorts, and once more its findings are disturbing.

"In 2007, the number of closing and advisory dates at ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches reached 22,571 days nationwide, their second highest level since NRDC began tracking these events 18 years ago," the report begins.

The worst year, if you're wondering, was 2006. But don't assume that conditions at America's beaches are improving. For one thing, 2006 was a rainier year than 2007, and rainier conditions always lead to more bacterial contamination. And while closing/advisory days were down 16% on the Delmarva Peninsula in 2007, that was after they had increased 43% the previous year.

But let's talk specifics. The NRDC study draws special attention to the beaches that were found to be contaminated with bacteria more than 25% of the time in 2007, bacteria that was likely the result of human or animal waste coming into contact with the water. Such contamination can readily cause gastrointestinal illnesses both mild and serious.

In some cases beaches were closed as a result, in others only an advisory was issued. A staggering 131 beaches in 23 states fall into this category, including 11 in Maryland and 1 in Virginia. Here, according to the report, are the 12 dirtiest beaches in our area, along with the percentage of time the water quality was determined to be unacceptable.

Colchester Beach, MD (Anne Arundel County) - 42%
Carpenters Point Beach, MD (Cecil) - 40%
Fairview Beach, VA (King George) - 38%
Buttonwood Beach, MD (Cecil) - 36%
Duck Neck Campground, MD (Queen Anne's) - 36%
Kinnard's Point, MD (Kent) - 36%
Sandy Hill Camp, MD (Cecil) - 33%
Charlestown Manor, MD (Cecil) - 30%
Quaker Neck Public Landing, MD (Kent) - 30%
Manhattan Beach at Cypress Creek, MD (Anne Arundel) - 28%
Crystal Beach Manor, MD (Cecil) - 27%
Tolchester Estates Beach, MD (Kent) - 26%

In addition, the report singles out Virginia's Fairview Beach as a repeat offender, the popular King George County beach having exceeded acceptable standards during each of the past three years. (In fact, according to a Fredericksburg newspaper, the Free Lance-Star, the beach has already issued six advisories since May of this year.)

There's lots more to the NRDC's study, including information about beaches all over the United States. Where are you going this year, and how concerned are you about water quality?

By Scott Vogel |  July 29, 2008; 10:00 AM ET  | Category:  Scott Vogel
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I spend the weekends on Long Island, and the news there has been equally dire for certain beaches on the Great South Bay and the Long Island Sound. Fortunately the ocean beaches seem to remain safe. I hope that the new wave of environmental awareness will make such issues a thing of the past in my lifetime, but I've been green since junior high in the late 60's and have trouble remaining optimistic.

Posted by: Karen | July 29, 2008 11:12 AM

Wow...liberal state and filthy water...what a shocker! And I thought only conservatives polluted our waters. I am sure you lefties will find a way to blame Bush for this as well..oh correction, maybe Cheney. The hypocrisy of the liberals is amazing. Bottom line, neither party has a monopoly on our desire for clean water, beaches and air!

Posted by: MangoMike | July 29, 2008 1:04 PM

Clean beaches and healthy oceans are a bipartisan issue. We all need to work for it and we all benefit - from fisherman to beach goers. Check out Ocean Champions, the first and only bipartisan political organization working to get candidates elected to Congress to champion ocean health. www.oceanchampions.org

Posted by: Maureen | July 29, 2008 1:23 PM

Not swimming in sewage... possibly the only upside of a summer vacation in Arizona.

Posted by: BxNY | July 29, 2008 2:57 PM

Going to DeBordieu Beach in Georgetown County, SC (with a 0% contamination rate and no closures). Whew - thanks for the link to the study. :-)

Posted by: PLS | July 29, 2008 4:44 PM

There are some good websites and mashups out that rank beaches and give nice writeups - like:

http://www.tripcart.com/usa-regions/Long-Island.aspx
and local CVB sites

BUT NO ONE INCLUDES A CLEANLINESS FACTOR. (which to me is most important)

Posted by: nathan | August 1, 2008 5:02 AM

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