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Safe beaches or bacteria? Dirtiest beaches list revised after errors


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The environmental research group that issued a reportlast month on America’s dirtiest beaches said it found errors in the methodology and calculations. The result: fewer beaches had problem bacteria levels last year than the group had previously said. 

The biggest changes involve beaches in Great Lakes states, according to The revision released earlier this month by the Environment America Research and Policy Center. The study focused on beaches with the most days of potentially unsafe levels of bacteria, primarily linked to fecal matter.

The organization said the changes should not diminish the study’s overall importance.

“The report still has great value — and a big regret is the errors distracted from the overall message of the importance of protecting our water,” said John Rumpler, clean water program director for Environment America.

The study received widespread attention when it was released July 23. When the errors were discovered, Environment America removed the report from its website and started reviewing its methodology. The new version was posted Aug. 2.

Under the new calculations, 2,580 of 4,523 beach sites tested nationwide, some 57%, were found to have water pollution levels at least one day in 2018 that exceeded the strictest safety guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s down from 2,627 beach sites in the earlier, uncorrected report.

Of those, 546 were found to be unsafe on at least a quarter of the days they were tested, down from 610 in the initial report. The study is based on data collected from beaches in 29 Great Lakes and coastal states and Puerto Rico.

Environment America said its research arm, Frontier Group, made two fundamental errors in its analysis of water data submitted to the federal government. One was not taking into account that some agencies use a different measurement method for water sampling. The other was a calculation error involvingthe benchmark number for E. coli, one of the bacteria that come from human or animal feces.

The fundamental point of the study: Many beaches often become unsafe at some point during a year, usually from waste from storm runoff and sewage overflows, Rumpler said. If those flows can be reduced, beaches stay cleaner on more days of the year.

“Our overall intention is to alert the public that our beaches are not as safe as they might assume, not as safe as they should be or not as safe as they can be,” Rumpler said.

The study was revised after authorities in some of the counties covered by the report raised questions about its veracity. The study was reported in USA TODAY and by other news organizations around the country.

Chicago Park District, for instance, which had been singled out as having problems at 19 beaches, said it believed the initial results were wrong due to its choice of testing methods.

Environment America agreed and changed its findings. But the district said in a statement it is still “disappointed by the continued use of incorrect or skewed data that provides misleading information to the public.”

In particular, it said the report classifies Chicago beaches by a more stringent risk standard than is commonly used in Illinois or some other states. It also says the report still contains “significant unexplained errors that falsely inflate the water quality advisory rate” on the beaches cited. Plus, it says it uses data sources that are not maintained by the EPA.

In response, Tony Dutzik, associate director of the Frontier Group, said the study was based on data obtained through the national Water Quality Portal, a cooperative project sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA and the National Water Quality Monitoring Council. 

The report initially said South Shore Beach beach in Cook County, Illinois, had potentially unsafe levels of bacteria on 93 of 98 testing days. Environment America’s revision now puts the number of unsafe days at 38. That’s still higher than what the Chicago Park District contends was 26 out of 100 sampling days. Environment America said it uniformly applied a tougher, but accepted, EPA testing benchmark.

The benchmark is that beaches should be considered potentially unsafe when bacteria levels indicate a risk of 32 water-related illnesses among 1,000 swimmers on a particular day, Dutzik said. Some jurisdictions, he added, use a higher, still acceptable, benchmark. 

The survey is still questionable in some regards. Itmay not include all beaches in the country. Rather, the results come only from beaches that are tested. Also, some beaches were tested a lot in 2018 and others a minimal amount. Kings Ferry in Chatham County, Georgia, for example, was tested only four days during the year — and it fell below the federal benchmark on three of those days.

Environment America was created as an offshoot of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in 2007 in order to focus entirely on environmental issues. Frontier Group was founded in 1996 as a nonprofit public policy research organization both for U.S. PIRG, Environment America and other groups.

Here is the revised list of beaches listed in the report for each state and their county. We show only the top five for each state. A longer list for each state is in the report.

 Alabama

• Fairhope Public Beach, Baldwin (21 unsafe days, 60 samples)    

• Dog River, Alba Club, Mobile (9, 36)    

• Volanta Avenue, Baldwin (8, 36)

• Camp Beckwith, Baldwin (8, 58)    

• Orange Street Pier, Baldwin (6, 34)    

California

• Inner Cabrillo Beach, Los Angeles (85 unsafe days, 175 samples)

• Coronado Ave. Beach, Los Angeles (62, 144)    

• Salt Creek Beach, Orange (46, 80)

• Molino Avenue Beach, Los Angeles (45, 130)    

• 5th Place Beach, Los Angeles (44, 140)    

Connecticut

• Byram Beach I, Fairfield (6 unsafe days, 20 samples) 

• Byram Beach II, Fairfield (6, 20)

• Seaside Park Beach I, Fairfield (5, 14)

• Seaview Beach, New Haven County, 4, 10

• Seaside Park Beach II, Fairfield (4, 12)

Delaware

• Slaughter Beach, Sussex (16 unsafe days, 25 samples)

• Fenwick Island State Park Beach, Sussex (3, 16)

• Rehoboth Beach, Sussex (3, 32)

• Broadkill Beach, Sussex (2, 16)

• Lewes Beach North, Sussex (2, 17)

Florida

• Bayou Texar, Escambia (24 unsafe days, 50 samples)

• Sanders Beach, Escambia (23, 64)

• Crandon Park on Key Biscayne, Miami-Dade (17, 63)

• Bird Key Park, Sarasota (17, 67)

• Venice Fishing Pier, Sarasota (15, 64)

Georgia

• St. Simons Island Lighthouse, Glynn (6 unsafe days, 50 samples)

• Kings Ferry, Chatham (3, 4)

• Skidaway Narrows, Chatham (3, 8) 

• Tybee Island, Polk St., Chatham (3, 46)

• Jekyll Driftwood Beach, Glynn (2, 46)

Hawaii

• Keehi Lagoon (North), Honolulu (11 unsafe days, 91 samples)

• Keehi Lagoon (South), Honolulu (10, 91)

• Punaluu Beach Park, Honolulu (9, 12)

• MS2 (Kapoho Point), Honolulu (9, 20)

• Kalihi Channel, Honolulu (8, 91)

Illinois

• South Shore Beach, Cook (38 unsafe days, 98 samples)

• Hartigan Beach, Cook (35, 96)

• 63rd Street Beach, Cook (34, 95)

• Rogers Avenue Park Beach, Cook (33, 95)

• Howard Street Park Beach, Cook (28, 96)

Indiana

• Jeorse Park Beach I, Lake (38 unsafe days, 111 samples)

• Jeorse Park Beach II, Lake (31, 111)

• Buffington Harbor Beach, Lake (24, 111)

• Indiana Dunes State Park East Beach, Porter (18, 101)

• Washington Park Beach, LaPorte (15, 105)

Louisiana

• North Beach, Calcasieu (11 unsafe days, 31 samples)

• Fontainebleau State Park, St. Tammany (10, 29)

• Cypremort Point State Park, St. Mary (10, 31)  

• Rutherford Beach, Cameron (9, 31)

• Holly Beach 4, Cameron (7, 31)

Maine

• Goose Rocks Beach – Site 5, York (14 unsafe days, 39 samples)

• Goose Rocks Beach – Site 1, York (9, 39)

• Willard Beach, Cumberland (8, 26)

• Ogunquit Beach, York (7, 14)

• Kennebunk Beach, York (6, 18)

Maryland

• Camp Pecometh, Kent (9 unsafe days, 16 samples)

• Public Landing Beach near Snow Hill, Worcester (8, 15)

• Ocean City Beach 1, Worcester (8, 28)

• Ferry Park, Kent (7, 10)

• Purse State Park, Charles (7, 12)   

Massachusetts

• Nahant Bay at Eastern Ave, Essex (39 unsafe days, 92 samples)

• Tenean Beach, Suffolk (26, 94)

• Nahant Bay at Pierce Road, Essex (23, 92)

• Nahant Bay at Kimball Road, Essex (21, 92)

• Quincy Shore at Channing Street, Norfolk (18, 93)

Michigan

• St. Clair Shores Memorial Park Beach, Macomb (18 unsafe days, 49 samples)

• Pier Park, Wayne (15, 20)

• HCMA/Lake St. Clair Metropark Beach, Macomb (13, 51)

• Kiwanis Beach, Mackinac (10, 25)

• Singing Bridge Beach, Arenac (8, 11)

Minnesota

• New Duluth Boat Club landing, St. Louis (14 unsafe days, 37 samples)

• Twin Points Public Access, Lake (4, 16)

• Agate Bay, Lake (4, 17)

• 5 miles SE of Duluth Aerial Lift Bridge, St. Louis (4, 29)

• Mouth of the Lester River, St. Louis (2, 13)

Mississippi

• Gulfport East Beach, Harrison (44 unsafe days, 66 samples)

• Gulfport Central Beach, Harrison (35, 62)

• Shearwater Beach, Jackson (35, 64)

• Long Beach, Harrison (35, 67)

• Courthouse Road Beach, Harrison (34, 60)

New Hampshire

• State Beach-Left, Rockingham (5 unsafe days, 26 samples)

• State Beach-Center, Rockingham (5, 27)

• New Castle Island-Right, Rockingham (4, 23)

• State Beach-Right, Rockingham (3, 26)

• Sawyer Beach-Right, Rockingham (2, 8)

New Jersey

• Beachwood Beach West, Ocean (14 unsafe days, 22 samples)

• Belmar Borough at L Street Beach, Monmouth (11, 21)

• Highlands Borough at Highlands Recreation Center, Monmouth (8, 19) 

• Berkeley Township at West Beach Avon Road, Ocean (8, 19)

• Brick Township at Windward Beach, Ocean (8, 22)

New York

• Tanner Park, Suffolk (48 unsafe days, 71 samples)

• Woodlawn Beach State Park, Erie (36, 104)

• Shirley Beach, Suffolk (28, 47)

• Venetian Shores, Suffolk (28, 48)

• Valley Grove Beach, Suffolk (24, 51)

North Carolina

• Sound access at the intersection of

E. Main Street/Tooley Street, Belhaven, Beaufort (11 unsafe days, 35 samples)

• Pamlico River – City Park, Beaufort (8, 17)

• NC Maritime Museum Sailing Camp, Carteret (8, 41)

• Pamlico River-Washington-Trestle, Beaufort (7, 17)

•Mouth of Slocum Creek – north side beach, Craven (7, 18)

Ohio

• Bay View West, Erie (42 unsafe days, 70 samples)

• Villa Angela State Park, Cuyahoga (38, 115)

• Euclid State Park, Cuyahoga 36, 112)

• Maumee Bay State Park (Inland), Lucas (33, 56)

• Lakeview Beach, Lorain (32, 60)

Oregon

• Sunset Bay State Park Beach/Big Creek, Coos (10 unsafe days, 18 samples)

• Harris Beach State Park at Harris Creek, Curry (5, 7)

• Nye Beach turnaround/discharge pipe, Lincoln (5, 11)

• Sunset Bay, seep creek, Coos (5, 11)

• Sunset Bay State Park Beach/North Beach, Coos (3,4)

Pennsylvania

• Beach 11 East in Thompson Bay, Erie (15 unsafe days, 39 samples)

• Beach 11  West in Thompson Bay, Erie (15, 39)

• Beach 11 Center in Thompson Bay, Erie (13, 39)

•1 East Center, Erie, (6, 28)

•1 East West, Erie, (5,27)

Rhode Island

• Easton’s Beach, Newport (10 unsafe days, 29 samples)

• Conimicut Point Beach – West, Kent (6, 25)

• Sandy Point Beach – North, Newport (5, 26)

• Sandy Point Beach – South, Newport (5, 26)

• Oakland Beach Center, Kent  (5, 26)

South Carolina

• Withers Swash, Horry (32 unsafe days, 70 samples)

• Myrtle Beach at 24th Avenue N, Horry (30, 70)

• White Point Swash, Horry (26, 70)

• Bear Branch Swash, Horry (26, 70)

• Cane Patch Swash, Horry (26, 70)

Texas

• Cole Park – Site 3, Nueces (52 unsafe days, 64 samples)

• Ropes Park – Site 2, Nueces (43, 59)

• Cole Park – Site 4, Nueces (42, 53)

• Cole Park – Site 2, Nueces (38, 56)

• Poenisch Park, Nueces (35, 55)

Virginia

• North Community Beach, Norfolk city (7 unsafe days, 18 samples)

• Captains Quarters, Norfolk city (5, 18)

• 10th View, Behind Quality Inn, Norfolk city (4, 18)

• 15th Street, Virginia Beach city (4, 20)

• 13th View, North End, Norfolk city (3, 18)

Washington 

• Sooes Beach, Clallam (7 unsafe days, 41 samples)

• Little Squalicum Park, Whatcom (5, 15)

• Lummi Bay, adjacent to second tidegate, Whatcom (5, 34)

• Dakwas Park Beach, Neah Bay, Clallam (5, 48)

• Richie Viewpoint, King, (4, 13)

Wisconsin

• South Shore Beach, Milwaukee, (34 unsafe days, 60 samples) 

• McKinley Beach, Milwaukee (26, 61)

• Eichelman Beach, Kenosha, (21,51)

• Maslowski Park, Ashland  (14, 32)

• Nicolet Beach, Door (14, 59)

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/08/09/america-dirtiest-beaches-list-bacteria-safe-revised/1900961001/



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