Beach Blanket Blues

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A leading environmental group has found that 2007 was the second worst year in recent history for beach closures due to high pollution levels. In the 18th annual version of its “Testing the Waters” survey, the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recorded 22,571 closures or advisory days at the nation’s 3,516 most popular beaches last year, down from the record 25,643 in 2006. The group attributes the 12% reduction in beach closures to the drought affecting California and Hawaii. Less rain means less polluted run-off reaching beaches, but does not indicate that polluters have cleaned up their acts.

“Our nation’s beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk,” NRDC reported, adding that 2007 was the third consecutive year with more than 20,000 cases of beaches being closed due to high pollution levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the incidence of infections associated with recreational water use has steadily increased in recent decades.

The group would like to see the federal government strengthen protections for the nation’s beaches in response to the growing problem. “Beach water quality standards are more than 20 years old and rely on outdated science and monitoring methods that leave beachgoers vulnerable to a range of waterborne illnesses such as gastroenteritis, dysentery and hepatitis along with respiratory ailments and other serious health problems,” NRDC researchers reported. “With the population in U.S. coastal areas growing, we can expect to see more Americans getting sick until the sources of beachwater contamination are addressed.”

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