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Study finds rise in contamination at US beaches

But Massachusetts showing progress

By Noaki Schwartz
Associated Press / June 30, 2011

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LOS ANGELES — Those envisioning July 4 celebrations at the beach may be swimming at their own risk, according to a study that found the number of beach closures nationwide due to dirty water soared last year.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which released its annual report yesterday, found that beach closures and advisories across the country increased by 29 percent in 2010, compared with a year earlier. The conservation group used data from 3,000 locations and found that waters in Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan had the highest levels of contamination.

Eleven percent of California’s beaches reported elevated levels of bacterial contamination, the largest amount in five years.

In Massachusetts, most of the 614 coastal beaches were monitored at least once a week. About 6 percent of all samples exceeded the maximum bacteria standards, down from 8 percent in 2009 and matching the results from 2008. Twenty-eight beaches exceeded the standard at least 20 percent of the time, with Kings at Stacy Brook in Essex County (83 percent), Cockle Cove Creek in Barnstable County (58 percent), and Great Pond at Long Point in Dukes County (50 percent) exceeding standards most frequently.

The report cited progress in preventing pollution in the Bay State, including enlarging a no-sewage-discharge zone for boaters off Cape Cod, building a wastewater treatment plant in Chatham, and completing the sewer-overflow tunnel that protects beaches in South Boston and Quincy.

Swimming in such pollution can cause gastrointestinal, respiratory, and other illnesses and is of particular risk for children and the elderly. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that up to 3.5 million people become ill from contact with raw sewage from overflows every year.

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