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Beach Pollution Facts: The Most Polluted Beaches in America


As the weather heats up and families pack up the van for a trip to the beach, millions of Americans will to grab a tan on the sand and swim in the blue water to cool down and ride the waves. The summer trip to the beach is a celebrated American pastime, but if you don’t do your research you could unknowingly step into a dangerous situation. There’s one type of pollution many Americans expose themselves to without considering the consequences: beach pollution.

Why Is Beach Pollution a Problem?

The oceans are more polluted than ever before, and many local beaches simply can’t keep up with the overwhelming chemical, plastic, and organic waste piling up on shores and in nearby deposits. The pollution at your local beach can have a significant impact on the health of your family.

An in-depth report by the Natural Resources Defense Council summarizes many potential health risks stemming from beach pollution:

  • Many beaches contain sewage-polluted water, which will contain high levels of bacteria, viruses, and parasites, including giardia, the highest-reported intestinal parasite. Health risks from coming in contact with these fecal-related organic contaminants include stomach flu, respiratory infection, skin infection, and diarrhea and vomiting, especially in children and the elderly.

  • Harmful algal blooms are a growing national concern — coming into contact with an algal bloom can cause nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, numbness, seizures, and cardiovascular problems.

  • The increased rate of urban runoff infecting beach waters after storms and in dry conditions have led to elevated risks of developing gastrointestinal distress by coming into contact with fecal coliform in beaches near urban centers.

Beach pollution is becoming a major concern as climate change and human pollution continue to shape oceanic environments. The Environmental Protection Agency is “developing tools to better measure, identify, and address microbes in recreational waters and to better understand how these pollutants affect people’s health.”

Be Cautious When Visiting These Beaches

These are the most polluted beaches in America, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council – take precautions if you decide to visit these polluted beaches.

Avalon Beach, California – This beach, located in the southernmost region of Los Angeles County, is frequently packed with visitors and tourists. The tourism and lackluster regulation has taken its toll – the beach is highly polluted, being particularly polluted near Busy B Café.


Ropes Park, Texas – Storm water and gratuitous sewer overflow is largely to blame for the shocking amount of pollution at this once beloved beach. Located in Nueces County, this beach’s water contaminant content is particularly high.


Villa Angela State Park, Ohio – The pollution responsible for dirtying our beaches often isn’t as clear-cut as plastic bottles, bags, and other waste. This beach in Cuyahoga County was found to contain consistently high bacteria levels on a daily basis.


Doheny State Beach, California – Even Orange County isn’t impervious to water pollution. The level of pollutants and contaminants at this beach ranked particularly high north of San Juan Creek and near the Surf Zone at Outfall. Think twice before taking a dip in these waters.


Beachwood Beach West, New Jersey – The New Jersey and New York coastline typically boasts some of the country’s cleanest beaches, but this beach on the Jersey Shore has higher levels of pollution than nearly any other beach in America. Storm water and local wildlife are key contributors to pollution.


Keaton Beach, Florida – Being a central port beach has taken its toll on this locale. The pollution at this Taylor Country beach is caused by a combination of factors, including animal waste, boats and related debris, storm water, and excess runoff.

What Can Be Done About Beach Pollution?

There are no “easy” fixes for beach pollution — the central cause is storm water runoff that flows directly into public waterways, including beaches. As the NRDC notes, local municipalities must push for and implement green infrastructure like permeable pavement, grassy traffic medians, and pocket parks to reduce the amount of polluted water spilling into your favorite beach every day.

Beach Safety Tips

Want to avoid dangerous pathogens? Wait 72 hours after a rainstorm for your trip to the beach, or you will be facing elevated levels of runoff and related contaminants. Choose to swim in areas with good water circulation, instead of stagnant bodies of water. Spot a flowing storm drain? Don’t swim within 400 feet of it. And check your beach’s health score at Heal the Bay’s Annual Beach Report Card.

Even when travelling to clean beaches, clean drinking water will be in short supply, as most beaches don’t feature nearby plumbing. Plan ahead and bring plenty of fruit and food items that are high in water content to stay hydrated when at the beach. Pack plenty of filtered water for your family so your trip to the beach is relaxing and not exhausting. Convenient glass bottles are a great alternative to plastic water bottles both for water quality and reusability.

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