U.S. beaches a health risk for swimmers

The Environmental Protection Agency in the U.S. has come under fire for failing to update 20 year old beach water quality standards.

According to a report by the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), ocean, bay and great lakes beaches were closed or health advisories issued for a total of more than 20,000 days last year, up 5 percent from 2004.

The NRDC claims foul water forced U.S. officials to issue health warnings or close beaches for more days than ever last year, and the group is suing the government over water safety standards.

The NRDC has blamed the rise in days that the water was found to be unsafe on heavy rain, better monitoring and more coastal development, but says those violations are good indications that the beach water was contaminated with human and animal waste.

This means, says the NRDC, that beach goers were either swimming in the waste or banned from doing so due to the health risks and it argues that even the beaches that were deemed safe may be hazardous because of inadequate quality standards.

Apparently the EPA should have updated its standards by October 2005 but now says it will be unable to finish the process until 2011.

As a result the NRDC has filed a suit against the EPA in an attempt to force it to establish tougher standards.

The NRDC report says that 8 percent of beach water tested failed to meet federal health standards, with Mississippi's beaches the dirtiest and a total of 22 percent of tests done there found the water violated health standards.

Hawaii, famed for its beautiful beaches, experienced twice as many warnings about beach water quality in 2005 than the previous year though there were no beach closures, and this has been attributed to heavier rainfall, which causes a runoff from rural and urban areas.

New Hampshire and Delaware were found to have the cleanest beaches.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national nonprofit environmental organization with more than 650,000 members.

Since 1970, its lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have been working to protect the world's natural resources and improve the quality of the human environment.

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