Beaches

Surf’s Up

Great-Lakes-Beach-MeasureThe summer beach season is in full swing!

Although we’re not buff lifeguards perched on lookout stands, EPA and the coastal states play a critical role in making your day at the beach a safe one.

There are three basic ways EPA and the states keep you safe from pollution at the beach:

 1.    preventing pollution from getting on the sand and in the water,

2.    measuring beach water to learn how clean it is, and

3.    telling people about actual beach conditions.

The U.S. enjoys some of the world’s best beach quality.  For the past six years, America’s beaches have been open and safe for swimming more than 95 percent of the time.

For that other 5 percent, EPA provides the states with beach grants to monitor beach water and make sure to notify you if conditions are unsafe for swimming.

In a single year, an estimated 96 million people visited a U.S. beach. Are you among that group?  How many times do you visit a beach during the summer?  What’s your favorite stretch of sand?

For more information, visit our site about Mid Atlantic beaches, oceans, and estuaries.  You can also listen to this recent Environment Matters Podcast to learn more about the deep blue sea and the ways it’s being protected.

And check out these posts we had earlier this summer about Adopt-A-Beach programs and BEACON notifications.  And finally, make sure you don’t fry at the beach – for ways to protect yourself from the sun, check out EPA’s SunWise tips.

See you at the beach!

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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July 4th Rehoboth Beach

By Nancy Stoner

This year, I had the pleasure of celebrating the 4th of July with my family at Rehoboth Beach, Deleware The weather was beautiful, and the beach was alive with children, teenagers, and families of all kinds of backgrounds, speaking all kinds of languages enjoying themselves in the cool, clean water.

I loved watching everyone have a good time body surfing, kayaking, wading, watching the dolphins, and running back and forth with the waves—a favorite activity of the 5-and-under crowd. In this struggling economy, it was also reassuring to see hotels, motels, restaurants, and shops bustling with activity from tourists like me. In fact, beach tourism pumps more than $300 billion into the U.S. economy every year.

For me, what also makes visiting beaches so great is that they are a free resource, available to everyone and easily accessible via train, plane, car, bus, bike, or foot. As a mother and a beach goer, I understand the importance of clean water as a resource that is vital to our communities and our health. That’s why EPA has been working closely with state and local officials to reduce pollution at local beaches. This year alone, the agency has provided nearly $10 million in beach monitoring grants.

Still, we can only continue to protect our beaches if we also protect the upstream waters, including small streams and wetlands, from pollution that would otherwise flow to the beaches. To achieve that goal, on April 27, 2011, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed for public comment, a guidance document that reaffirms protection for critical waters and provides clearer, more predictable guidelines for determining which water bodies are protected by the Clean Water Act.

This “Waters of the United States” guidance is based on science and makes common sense: Protecting the smallest water sources is the best and most cost-effective way to protect the larger bodies of waters that they flow into.

Do your part to ensure the protection of our waters for future generations: Submit your comments on our draft guidance between now and July 31st. And when you’ve done that, visit the EPA’s beach page for updates on your local beaches so you can enjoy a healthy and safe summer!

For more information on EPA Beach Grants, please visit

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water and grew up in the flood plain of the South River, a tributary of the Shenandoah River.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.


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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Tale of Two Beaches

By Lina Younes

The images of my summer vacation are still vivid in my mind, but not for the reasons you may think. During the first part of my vacation, my family and I had the opportunity to go to a beach resort with pristine waters and powdery white sands. The ambiance was like heaven on earth. It was the perfect setting to get away from it all. I wish to capture that moment in time forever.

The second part of the vacation was dedicated to family activities and friends. During the course of the vacation, we often went to pastry shop right on the coastal road. We noticed that the pastry and ice cream shop was connected to an outdoor restaurant. So one evening, we decided to have a relaxing family dinner at sunset enjoying the ocean breeze. Boy, were we in for quite a surprise! From the road, you could observe the turquoise waters. But when we actually sat down for dinner by that beach, it looked like a wasteland!!! Mounds of plastic bottles and trash strewed across the beach. There were even black patches of burnt sand where people had burned garbage in the past. The waves kept taking the debris out to sea and back who knows how many times. The saddest part was that people didn’t seem to mind. They didn’t care! I was in a foreign country beyond EPA’s reach. Who could I report the incident to?

While enforcement of environmental laws and regulations is key, we all have to do our part to minimize waste and recycle whenever possible. So when packing for the beach or any outdoor activity, dispose of your waste properly to make this Planet Earth a better place for us all.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Water Pollution caused by Actions on Land

Last summer I was a lifeguard on Myrtle Beach. It was a fun yet stressful job to say the least. I was constantly asked about the presence of jellyfish and, of course, sharks, but was rarely asked of the quality of the water. Only once sections of the beach were closed were questions raised, indirectly, towards water quality.

The answer as to why beaches were being closed was easy to answer: the waters in the areas closed down were unsafe because of environmental degradation. Streams of water leading from the land beyond the beach to the ocean are caused by “swashes.” Swashes are areas of the beach where water has washed onshore after an incoming wave has broken, causing sand and other light particles to cover the beach. There are signs around the swashes warning beach-goers that it is not safe to play in the streams for fear of health concerns, as the water in the streams harbor bacteria caused by pollution. However, the shallow, calm waters and large, rounded rocks provide a seemingly harmless playground to children and families.

The pipelines that surge run-off from the land to the ocean create an easy access for pollution to reach the water on our beaches. Sections of the beach close down usually after periods of rainfall, as rain moves ample amounts of pollutants into the ocean. Most of the pollutants that are in the water are caused by what people are doing on land. Some actions that cause ocean contamination and pollution include:

  • Automobile and boat use
  • Pesticide use
  • Garbage dumping
  • Land-clearing
  • Toxic waste dumping
  • Oil spills

The bacteria, pollutions, wastes, and pesticides in oceans and on beaches can have detrimental health effects to humans, especially children. These health effects include:

  • Sore Throat
  • Gastroenteritis
  • Meningitis
  • Encephalitis
  • Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

The problem in our coastal waters is one that should concern us. Children like to play on the sand and in the water, making them more susceptible to the health effects caused by pollution.

About the author: Nicole Reising is an intern at the Office of Children’s Health Protection. She is a sophomore studying non-profit management at Indiana University.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Playing It Safe At The Beach

image of author taking a survey on the beachAs 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 always before 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.

image of EPA tent at beachWhat 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 to find out how you can become part of their Adopt-a-Beach 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 check into 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Life’s a Beach

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 greatlakes.org 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 http://www.oceanconservancy.org/site/PageServer?pagename=icc_home 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.