The report, titled “Safe for Swimming?” compiled testing data from 3,192 beaches across the coastlines of America. Based on the results, 55 percent of the beaches had unsafe levels of sewage in their waters at least once in 2022. Furthermore, one in nine beaches had persistently unsafe levels throughout the year.
Meanwhile, in 2020, the group estimated that 53 percent of the beaches had potentially unsafe levels of sewage in their waters at least once, while in 2019, the figure was 56 percent.
The southern states along the Gulf Coast, including Florida, Texas, and Louisiana, were the most heavily affected, with 84 percent of their beaches experiencing fecal contamination at least once in 2022.
Following the Gulf Coast, the West Coast had the second-highest contamination levels, with 70 percent of beaches in California, Oregon, and Washington experiencing pollution at least once in 2022. Beaches surrounding the Great Lakes, such as those in Wisconsin and Illinois, ranked third in terms of pollution, with 63 percent detecting feces at least once last year.
The state of Oregon appeared to have the most polluted beaches in the United States, with half of its counties having beaches deemed too dirty for swimming for six to twelve months each year. In contrast, Alaska and Hawaii fared better, with only 24 percent of their beaches experiencing unsafe pollution levels at least once a year.
John Rumpler, the clean water program director at Environment America emphasized the need for bold action to tackle beach pollution, as multiple factors indicate that the situation may deteriorate further if left unaddressed.
‘While the data do not allow us to say whether beach pollution is worse now than in some prior years, there are several troubling trends that increase the likelihood of beach pollution.’
Majority of US beaches are unsafe for swimmers and even aquatic animals
This year alone, there have been multiple incidents pointing to problems with water quality at beaches across the US. In July, more than 200 dead dolphins and sea lions washed ashore on California beaches, with hundreds more being stranded in distress. Experts believe an algal bloom, caused by an explosion of nutrients in the water, potentially from sewage, triggered the disaster.
In March, Florida’s shores were hit by a 5,000-mile blanket of rotting seaweed, known as the “red tide.” Residents reported burning eyes, breathing difficulties, and dead fish littering the beach. Toxic red algae blooms, associated with nutrient buildup like nitrogen, which can be linked to sewage, were responsible for the seaweed deaths.
Several factors contribute to the contamination of beaches with feces. Storms can sweep feces into the sea as rainwater overloads drains and sewage systems, causing them to overflow. Additionally, rivers can carry manure from industrial farms, depositing it into the ocean.
Despite Congress allocating $11.7 billion for repair work to sewage systems and the construction of new storm water drainage systems in 2021, the efforts have not yet reduced water pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that an additional $271 billion is needed to address the problem adequately.