July 29, 2008 / 3:52 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. beach warnings drop in '07 but still high: group

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of days U.S. beaches were declared unsafe for swimming due to pollution declined by 12 percent in 2007 from the previous year but was still the second highest in 18 years, an environmental group said on Tuesday.

File photo shows Pensacola Beach, Florida June 25, 2008. REUTERS/Matthew Bigg

The National Resources Defense Council said it recorded 22,571 closures or advisory days at the nation’s 3,516 most popular beaches last year, down from the record 25,643 in 2006.

A decline in rainfall in areas of Hawaii and California appeared to be behind the drop, the council said. Heavy rainfall often causes sewerage systems or storm drains to overflow, sending pollutants into swimming areas.

“Our nation’s beaches continue to suffer from serious water pollution that puts swimmers at risk,” the council said in its annual report, noting that 2007 was the third consecutive year with more than 20,000 cases of beaches being closed because they were considered unsafe due to pollution.

Seventy-one percent of the closures were based on monitoring that detected elevated bacteria levels. Twenty-five percent were precautionary because of rain likely carrying pollution to swimming areas and 3 percent were prompted by incidents like sewage treatment plant failures or pipe breaks.

The council also issued a rating guide to the most popular U.S. beaches, awarding stars in five different categories dealing with issues such as infrequent pollution, regular monitoring and rapid response to pollution. The beaches that received stars in all five categories were:

Several stretches of Laguna Beach in Orange County, California; Bolsa Chica State Beach in Orange County, California; two areas of Huntington City Beach in Orange County, California; Poipu Beach, Kauai, Hawaii; Salt Pond Beach Park, Kauai, Hawaii.

Also, Magic Island Beach, Honolulu, Hawaii; Wailea Beach Park, Maui, Hawaii; one section of the beach at Ocean City, Maryland; three stretches of beach on Park Point near Duluth, Minnesota, and Hampton Beach, Rockingham, New Hampshire.

The full report is available here

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by David Wiessler

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