Summer Bummer: Is The Beach Making Us Sick?

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Is a trip to the beach in your weekend plans? Two recent studies suggest that illness-causing bacteria could be hiding in the water.

A University of Miami study found that beach goers who swam at a South Florida beach were at higher risk of sickness in the week after their visit compared to people who stayed out of the water. Out of a group of 1,300 volunteers, the half that spent just 15 minutes in the water were more than 1.5 times more likely to suffer a gastrointestinal illness, nearly 4.5 times more likely to report having a fever or respirator illness and six times more likely to report a skin illness in the week after their visit. (Will this affect the booming surfing-dogs industry?)

A second study conducted by the National Resources Defense Council, ranked the country’s best and worst beaches in 2009, identifying spikes in bacteria nationwide. The council reported that New Hampshire, Delaware and Oregon had the cleanest beaches, while Illinois, Rhode Island and Louisiana housed the most contaminated shores in the country. According to Discovery, there were more than 18,5000 beach closings in 2009, most of which were due to high bacteria levels. More than 3,000 U.S. beaches are tested for contaminates daily in accordance with the Environmental Protection Agency, and out of these samples, about 7 percent surpass the EPA’s tolerance level for bacterias. (Some beaches fail these tests more than 70 percent of the time.)

But what’s behind the contamination? An attorney for the National Resources Defense Council told Discovery that officials are unable to pinpoint the cause of bacterial spikes more than half of the time, but when the source is identified, storm water runoffs and sewage spills or overflows are the most likely causes.