By Trey Cody
When thinking of a beach threat, I typically think of jellyfish. Once on a family beach vacation, my sister was stung by a jellyfish, and the memory has stuck with me since. Some people on the other hand may think of crabs or sharks when asked about dangerous things at the beach.
But potentially the most harmful threat at the beach is one we cannot see: bacteria. A majority of beach closings and advisories issued last year were due to elevated bacteria levels in the water. An unusually elevated bacteria level in beach water is typically the result of uncontrolled human or animal waste. In wet weather events, stormwater runoff pollutes beach water by bringing bacteria along the way as it runs off through streets and through sewers. To protect the health of beachgoers, monitoring is conducted at many beaches, and advisories are posted to alert the public when it isn’t safe to swim because of high bacteria.
The good news is that for the seventh consecutive year, in 2011, the nation’s coastal and Great Lakes beaches were open and safe for swimming 95 percent of the time during the swimming season.
Beach water quality is a priority here at EPA. We work with state and local partners to control potential sources of pollution to the beaches. For example, we help communities to build and properly operate sewage treatment plants, and implement a national storm water program and promote green infrastructure to reduce runoff and minimize sewer overflows. On our Region III Beaches page, you can find out information on beach sampling data, beach closings and advisories, beach water quality standards, and much more!
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) uses data and information from EPA and the States to publish an annual report on the quality of beach water in the U.S. It rates popular beaches and awards the ones with exceptionally low violation rates and strong testing and safety practices. Three of the Mid-Atlantic Region’s very own beaches have been particularly vigilant about minimizing the threats from bacteria. Delaware’s Dewey and Rehoboth beaches and Maryland’s Ocean City at Beach 6 all received a 5-star rating from the NRDC.
At these beaches and many others in Region 3, national standards were not only met, but exceeded, making them some of the cleanest beaches in the country. So before the summer slips away, grab your swim suit, towel and sunscreen and head down to your favorite stretch of shoreline! Share stories of your time at the beach this summer in our comments section, and contribute your photos to EPA’s State of the Environment Photo Project.
About the Author: Trey Cody has been an intern with EPA’s Water Protection Division since graduation from high school in 2010. He is currently attending the Pennsylvania State University.