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Life’s a Beach

2009 July 10

As the Beach Program Coordinator for EPA’s office in Chicago, I’m often asked whether it’s safe to swim in Lake Michigan. My answer is yes, it is safe to swim in the lake, but there are things that swimmers need to know before they go to the beach to help keep themselves – and others – from getting sick at the beach.

When you’re at the beach, be sure to wash your hands as soon as you leave the water and alwaysbefore eating anything. Don’t feed the birds, as their fecal matter can contribute to poor water quality and may cause beach closures. Also, be sure to use the bathroom facilities when nature calls, and encourage your friends to do the same. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at the beach and hear people tell their friends they have to go to the bathroom – then watch them get up and walk towards the shore! The most important tip is make sure that you stay out of the water if you are sick, as you may share your illness with others.

Even though many beaches are regularly tested for bacteria levels, it can take up to a day to get water quality samples back from the lab, so water quality results aren’t posted until the following day. Being an informed swimmer will help keep you healthy. I generally tell beach goers that a good rule to follow is to avoid swimming during, and up to a day or two after, a rainstorm. Pollutants, such as fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste, may be washed off the land and into the water during the rain, which could pollute the beach water.

What do you do when you see a sign at the beach that advises against swimming? Swimming in contaminated water can make you sick, ranging from sore throats and diarrhea to more serious illnesses. EPA and CDC are currently studying the relationship between water quality and illness, and the results of the study, due out in 2011, will help better protect swimmers.

In the meantime, you can help make your favorite beaches better during your summer break by volunteering to adopt a beach! Go to the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ website at to find out how you can become part of their Adopt-a-Beach TM program.  Volunteers help collect data on different aspects of their beach to investigate pollution sources, collect and dispose of litter, and sample water quality. Or visit in the 24th annual International Coastal Cleanup on September 19. Let’s keep our beaches clean! Do you know of other ways to volunteer to keep our beaches clean? Share your stories and contacts with us here!!

About the author: Holly Wirick started with EPA in 1991 and has served as the Regional Beach Program Coordinator since EPA’s Beach Program was established in 1997.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. brenildo tavares rio de janeiro brasil permalink
    July 10, 2009

    I ask your permission to adopt your indications and if it is permissible to translate and distribute in some future.
    At moment our lagoon inside the city is being cleaned and there are expectancies that bathing conditions will be gained.
    so your advices will be very precious if by chance you permite to uyse then of course with full indication where thy me from
    thank you

  2. brenildo tavares rio de janeiro brasil permalink
    July 10, 2009

    thank you
    no hurry!

  3. Edgardo Berraz permalink
    July 10, 2009

    It’s very important for people to preserve the quality of the beachs,that is already very contaminated by the proper contamination of the rivers, streams and the seas that then is carried out over the beachs.Therefore take care for the marine’s live is a form to preserve it for future mankind.

  4. Edgardo Berraz permalink
    July 10, 2009

    Thanks very much.

  5. Johnny R. permalink
    July 11, 2009

    This is what is commonly known as doubletalk. The beach is safe to swim but watch out for the pollution. Sort of like TV advertized medicines, safe to use but consult your doctor and watch out for the side-effects. Get real!

  6. Amrita permalink
    July 25, 2009


    Yes it is very important to always obey swimming rules in beaches.
    Never chew gum or eat while you swim – you could choke.

    keeping the beach clean in not a job for one individual.
    I think the member who regularly visit the beach should arrange for a clean up session. But this is not the best solution for keeping a beach clean and is only a temporary initiative.

    The beach would again become dirty after some days. You can do this by telling people about the hazards of not keeping the beach clean to the environment and health of people.

    With Regards

  7. Galini Beach permalink
    March 22, 2010

    That’s a very helpful article, it may sounds odd to some people but indeed beaches could have higher levels of bacteria, especially if the sea water has not the ability to be properly renewed or if we’re talking about non-salt waters. Be careful if you want to enjoy the beach!

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