US beach closures increased in 2001 by 19%

According to the Natural Resource Defence Council’s 12th annual report on the state of the US’s beaches, there were at least 13,410 closures and advisories at coastal and freshwater beaches in 2001, compared to around 11,270 in 2000. More often than not, authorities are unable to locate the source of pollution, says the NRDC.

According to Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, in some areas, heavy rainfall contributed to the closures, but much of the rise on the previous year’s total actually resulted from increased monitoring, better testing standards for bacteria and other pathogens and more thorough reporting. In other words, says the NRDC, the improved monitoring is beginning to reveal the true extent of the country’s problems.

This latest result appears to be part of a trend. Last year, the NRDC revealed that twice as many beaches were closed in 2000 compared to 1999 (see related story).

The organisation is concerned over one revelation of the report, in particular – that local authorities often don’t know the sources of pollution, with 54% attributed to unknown sources. During the year, 87% of closures and advisories were due to bacteria associated with faecal contamination.

“The reporting agencies don’t know the source of pollution because, in many cases, no one is systematically tracking it down and attempting to do anything about it,” said Sarah Chasis, a NRDC senior attorney, and Director of the organisation’s water and coastal programme. “Identifying the source of the problem is a critical step to improving beachwater quality. “It’s important not only to regularly monitor beaches and notify the public of contamination, but also to identify and control the pollution sources.”

However, the NRDC acknowledges that since the first beach report in 1990, some coastal states have improved their monitoring, testing and notification practices. For example, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and the states of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia, which performed poorly in the late 1990s, have since initiated monitoring and notification programmes.

Although a number of states have passed laws requiring monitoring of beaches, monitoring standards remain inconsistent across the country as a whole. The good news is that Congress has now passed the federal Beach Act, which is intended to ensure consistent national health standards for beach water by 2004.

The report revealed a list of beaches at which swimmers should be caution. Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Puerto Rico, Verginia, Washington and Wisconsin all have beaches that are described by the NRDC as ‘beach bums’ for their lack of adequate monitoring. In addition, the whole of Oregon and Louisiana are put in the same bad news category.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie