50 Percent Of U.S. Beaches Too Shitty To Surf At, Study Suggests - Stab Mag

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"Half of the 3,100 beaches tested across the country in 2022 had at least one day where the fecal contamination exceeded safe levels as established by the Environmental Protection Agency." Photo: Orange County Register

50 Percent Of U.S. Beaches Too Shitty To Surf At, Study Suggests

“Unsafe levels of fecal contamination.”

elsewhere // Jul 25, 2023
Words by Christian Bowcutt
Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Rain hits rooftops, streets, lawns and it picks up pollutants like microplastics and pet waste, and the extra rainwater overwhelms sewage and septic systems, which then discharge fecal matter.”

That’s how a Surfrider Foundation spokesperson explained this article’s headline.

That bold headline rests on a study conducted by an NGO called Environment America that focuses on ensuring clean air and water in the country. Environment America tested 3,100 beaches across the U.S.. The 50% number refers to the fact that half of those tested beaches had at least one day in 2022 where fecal contamination exceeded the “safe levels” as determined by the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency.

Environment America attributes the fecal contamination to, “storm runoff, sewage overflows, and factory farms.”

And while beach closures due to contamination are rare on the U.S.’s west coast, it’s something that happens rather frequently near the east coast’s urban centers. This article in the Boston Globe reports that 53 beaches in Massachusetts have been closed this year alone.

The Surfrider Foundation maintains that the #1 source of water pollution, swimming advisories, and eventually beach closures in the U.S. is stormwater runoff.

While the west coast’s greatest runoff issue is “impervious surfaces” (concrete), east coast states like Florida have bigger problems with agricultural waste.

But before we fear floating turds around us and illnesses within us, it’s important to get critical about the information here.

The 50% number is based on one day out of 365 where fecal contaminations are unsafe. Likely, these are days during or right after a major storm, when, unless there’s a swell with good conditions, we wouldn’t be surfing anyways.

The Environment America study explained that only 300 of the 3,100 beaches tested had unsafe levels of fecal contamination on at least 25 percent of the days on which testing took place.

So, yes. Fecal contamination is a problem. Individuals and we as a society as a whole should do better to limit the amount of pollutants that wash into the ocean. And polluted ocean water can cause illnesses like gastrointestinal issues, eye and ear infections, and skin rashes. But given the data and the way it was collected, it’s no cause to declare half of the U.S.’s beaches permanently unsafe.

As for me and my house, we’ll be surfing after a rain. Sorry.


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