Many of America’s beaches are still contaminated by sewage water and are teeming with bacteria, but many sickened swimmers don’t realize they’ve caught a disease from the ocean.
That’s the rather filthy picture of America’s coastal areas from the Natural Resources Defense Council in its annual report on the state of the nation’s beaches – salty and otherwise. In 2010, the executive summary notes, the number of closures or warnings was the second highest in the 21 years the report has been issued.
Last year was particularly pathogenic in part because unusually heavy rains in some places carried contaminants into the ocean; the report points an especially accusatory finger at aging sewage systems. This Los Angeles Times story has more on the report, and the ratings for popular beaches can be found here.
But about that filthiness.
Infections linked to recreational water have risen in the past few decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A pathogen of special concern is E. coli, which naturally flourishes in the gut and is found in sewage and fecal matter, because of its ability to cause gastrointestinal illnesses. But other pathogens can sicken swimmers as well. Beach water illnesses include so-called stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis and hepatitis. And children, who are less likely to think twice about submerging their heads and swallowing water, are particularly at risk.