Pollution-related beach closings and advisories soared last year, according to the National Resource Defense Council's (NRDC) eleventh annual beach report. Across the United States, a record 11,270 closings and advisories were issued in 2000, 83 percent more than the 6,160 announced in 1999.
What caused this surge? The report says that although some states experienced heavy rainfall that prompted more closings and advisories, most of the upsurge in closings and advisories followed increased monitoring, better testing standards for bacteria and other pathogens, and more complete reporting. In other words, the country's testing policies and practices are beginning to reveal the extent of water pollution at our nation's beaches, according to the NRDC. As monitoring improves and expands - as it must do by 2004, under federal law - the report predicts that the numbers are likely to rise still higher.
The NRDC report uncovered another worrisome trend: more than half of the time, local authorities can't identify all the pollution sources that prompt them to close their beaches or issue advisories. In fact, the number of beaches reporting pollution problems from unknown sources jumped dramatically, from 40 percent in 1999 to 56 percent in 2000, calling attention to the need for officials to take steps to identify and clean up pollution sources.
But even as more states monitor their beaches, the United States does not yet have a uniform, regular program of monitoring in place, the report explains. In October 2000, Congress passed a law that will ensure consistent national health standards for beachwater, in conjunction with comprehensive monitoring and public notification programs, to be in place by 2004. Currently, only Guam and 11 states - California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania - regularly monitor most or all of their beaches at least once a week and notify the public of dangerous conditions. However, the NRDC says that even some states that regularly test beachwater may not shut down beaches when standards are exceeded.