How to tell if water at your beach is safe for swimming

You want to go swimming, but is the water clean? Are you risking your health? How does your beach compare?

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a non profit environmental advocacy group. One of their projects is an annual survey of United States beach water quality. Unfortunately there is a delay in the data. The current report tells us about 2009 beachwater quality. With the oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon well, they did provide more up to date information for the affected Gulf beaches. For next year, we may be able to look forward to much better reports:

As a result of legal pressure from NRDC, the Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to update its 20-year-old beachwater quality standards by 2012. The legal settlement requires EPA to:

  • Conduct new health studies and swimmer surveys.
  • Approve a water-testing method that will produce same-day results.
  • Protect beachgoers from a broader range of waterborne illnesses.


When you are ready to look up a beach, remember the website address

The NRDC has some advice on how to protect yourself:

  1. Check the annual report and map. But make special notice to see if local authorities notify the public when the water is polluted.
  2. Check the EPA’s advice on protecting your health, and your beach’s health.
  3. Check with the beach town, county, or state health department for current status and warning signs.
  4. Avoid overt signs of pollution from industry, near urban areas, or where water circulation is limited.
  5. Avoid swimming after heavy rains that wash pollution into the water.

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