According to a new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, New Jersey saw a significant increase in beach closures and swimming advisories last year because of poor water quality. The state had 245 beach closures and advisories in 2012, up 87 percent from the year before. According to the Bergen County Record, the increase was due primarily to a a one-day closure of 103 beaches on Long Beach Island to remove a wash-up of floatable debris and to the fact that Ocean County began issuing beach advisories for the first time that year, pushing the numbers up.
Still, the problem of polluted water persists thanks to stormwater runoff, the largest known cause of beach water pollution nationwide. The runoff, accumulating over time and picking up toxic sediment and debris as it drains into oceans and lakes, can cause gastroenteritis, hepatitis, encephalitis, skin rashes, respiratory illnesses and ear, nose, and eye infections.
In New Jersey, the most significant source of polluted ocean and bay water continues to be old sewer systems that overflow after heavy rains, as well as stormwater runoff from roadways, parking lots, building roofs and other impervious surfaces, according to the Record. In areas hit by Hurricane Sandy, the NRDC found that preseason water quality sampling did not detect exceedances of the state’s swimming and shellfishing standards.
A coalition of groups concerned about water quality, including the NRDS and the NY/NJ Baykeeper, last week filed a notice of an intent to sue the EPA, claiming the agency has “failed to meet its legal responsibility to adopt water quality criteria that address the health threat posed by pollution at U.S. beaches.”
But while Jersey had a high number of beach closures last year, it ranked relatively well overall, coming in at seventh in beach water quality among the 30 coastal states in the U.S. The state had four percent of its water quality samples test high for pollution in 2012–up from three percent the year before, but below the seven percent rate more than 3,000 beaches tested at.
Nevertheless, if you’re headed to one of our state’s fine beaches, you may want to look up your beach’s ranking here. The NRDC advises that whenever possible, swim at beaches that your research shows have the cleanest water, are carefully monitored, and have strict closure and advisory procedures. If your beach is not monitored regularly, there are some things you can do to avoid swimming in polluted water:
- If possible, choose beaches that are next to open waters or away from urban areas. They typically pose less of a health risk than beaches in developed areas or in enclosed bays and harbors with little water circulation.
- Look for pipes along the beach that drain stormwater runoff from the streets, and don’t swim near them. Avoid swimming in beachwater that is cloudy or smells bad.
- Keep your head out of the water.
- Avoid swimming for at least 24 hours after it rains and 72 hours after heavy rains.
- Contact local health officials if you suspect beachwater contamination so that others can be protected from exposure.