United States

1,134 East Coast Beaches Unsafe to Swim at Least One Day in 2018, Study Says

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Nearly half of East Coast beaches tested in 2018 were too contaminated to swim in for at least one day of the year, a recent Environment America report states.

Maryland contains at least 79 of those sometimes-unsafe beaches, while Virginia contains at least 19.

The organization's study used reports from 40 agencies to determine how often American beaches are too contaminated to be safe for swimmers. According to Environment America, "millions of Americans in recent years have been sickened by swimming in contaminated water, with many hospitalized."

A mom says her son contracted a form of flesh-eating bacteria after going in the water near Ocean City, Maryland. News4's Darcy Spencer spoke to experts about the possible dangers of going out in the water.

Contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness, respiratory disease, ear and eye infections, and skin rashes, according to Environment America.

The organization's report attributes the contaminated water to "urban runoff, sewage leaks and overflows, and industrial-scale livestock operations."

The information in the report is based on sampling from local, state and federal agencies that was submitted to the National Water Quality Monitoring Council's Water Quality Portal.

In total, 4,523 sites from 29 states across the country and Puerto Rico were submitted. Tests showed that 2,627 of those sites had potentially unsafe levels of fecal contamination for swimming on at least one day.

Of the total number of beach sites tested across the country, 2,373 of them were along the East Coast, and 1,134 — 48 percent — were unsafe to swim in on at least one day, according to the report.

The report also listed results from within each of the 29 states tested, and Puerto Rico. Virginia and Maryland were among those states.

Of Maryland beaches, 158 were sampled in 2018, and 79 had potentially unsafe levels of contamination on at least one day.

Camp Pecometh in Kent County, Maryland, was potentially unsafe for nine days. That makes it the most frequently unsafe beach in the state out of those tested, according to the report.

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A total of 37 beaches in Virginia were sampled over the course of 2018, and of those, 19 were potentially unsafe on at least one day.

The North Community Beach in Norfolk, Virginia, was potentially unsafe for seven days, making it the most frequently unsafe beach in the state, the report states.

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Because the testing was performed by a number of different agencies, and they used different sampling techniques and equipment, comparisons cannot be drawn between different beach sites within one state, let alone between states. The report cannot determine which state has the most polluted beaches in a statistically relevant way.

To help make beaches across the United States safer for swimmers, and to improve health, Environment America recommends "efforts to prevent runoff pollution, including through the use of natural and green infrastructure that absorb stormwater onsite" from policymakers.

They also recommend same-day bacteria testing and warning systems, funding to fix sewage systems and prevent runoff pollution and stronger standards for municipal wastewater treatment.

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