As beach season crests in August, many swimmers will want to know whether, or how much, their favorite beach is contaminated. Even with crude, partial information, officials acknowledge that many beaches are polluted and pose a health threat.
In 2006, at least 32% of the 3,771 monitored US beaches had a health advisory or closing. The number of beaches reporting problems increased by about 8% over 2005. The number of "beach days" with closings or advisories in effect increased to 5% from 4% in 2005 (US EPA 2006 Swimming Season Update).
The Natural Resources Defense Council's annual report on beach conditions is expected Aug. 7, 2007: Nancy Stoner, 202-289-2394. It should be available at either the NRDC home page or its Oceans page. Last year's report is here.
EPA and many others acknowledge that the decades-old methods used to assess beach contamination are inadequate, as noted in a March 2007 workshop that may have helped advance the adoption of improved methods and criteria by 2012.
Some examples of current problems in timing and assessment methods were highlighted in studies published in the journals Applied and Environmental Microbiology (July 2007, Graczyk et al) and Water Research (August 2007, Sunderland et al). Both studies were discussed in aJuly 2, 2007, press release from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.