daveynin via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Safe for swimming?

Pollution at Our Beaches and How to Prevent It
The Clean Water Act, adopted in 1972, set the goal of making all of our waterways safe for swimming. Nearly a half-century later, Americans visiting their favorite beach are still met all too often by advisories warning that the water is unsafe for swimming. And each year, millions of Americans are sickened by swimming in contaminated water.

An analysis of fecal indicator bacteria sampling data from beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico reveals that 386 beaches – nearly one of every eight surveyed – were potentially unsafe on at least 25 percent of the days that sampling took place last year. More than half of all the 3,172 beaches reviewed were potentially unsafe for swimming on at least one day. Beaches were considered potentially unsafe if fecal indicator bacteria levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Beach Action Value” associated with an estimated illness rate of 32 out of every 1,000 swimmers.

To protect our health at the beach, policymakers should undertake efforts to prevent fecal pollution, including deploying natural and green infrastructure to absorb stormwater.

Which beaches in tested potentially unsafe for swimming on the most days last year?

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Fairhope Public BeachBaldwin125621%
May Day ParkBaldwin73123%
Dog River, Alba ClubMobile73321%
Orange Street Pier/BeachBaldwin53116%
Fowl River at Highway 193Mobile53216%
Camp BeckwithBaldwin4528%
Mary Ann Nelson BeachBaldwin31817%
Kee AvenueBaldwin33010%
Orange Beach Waterfront ParkBaldwin33110%
Volanta AvenueBaldwin2297%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Inner Cabrillo Beach*†Los Angeles15025858%
Marina Del Rey Beach/ Mothers Beach*†Los Angeles11129937%
Topanga State Beach†Los Angeles10125739%
Santa Monica State Beach*†Los Angeles9330530%
Will Rogers State Beach*†Los Angeles8330627%
Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge*San Diego7614652%
Long Beach*Los Angeles7414651%
Malibu Lagoon State Beach*†Los Angeles7130323%
Imperial Beach*San Diego5617632%
Border Field State Park*San Diego5513142%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

† Some beach water quality tests assessed E. coli for marine water, for which no Beach Action Value is available. Those tests were not considered in calculating potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Shady Beach*Fairfield102245%
Byram Beach*Fairfield81942%
Calf Pasture Beach*Fairfield82138%
Seaside Park Beach*Fairfield61443%
Branford Point BeachNew Haven61833%
Compo Beach*Fairfield51338%
Lighthouse Point Beach*New Haven51533%
Great Captain’s Island Beach*Fairfield41822%
Oak Street B BeachNew Haven3933%
Harvey’s BeachMiddlesex31421%
Long Beach (Marnick’s)Fairfield31421%
Seabright BeachFairfield31421%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Slaughter BeachSussex121963%
Broadkill BeachSussex51828%
Dewey Beach-SwedesSussex41724%
Dewey Beach-DagsworthySussex44010%
Rehoboth-Queen St BeachSussex21612%
North Indian River Inlet BeachSussex21712%
3 R’s Road BeachSussex1166%
Atlantic Beach Near Gordons PondSussex1166%
Fenwick Island State Park BeachSussex1166%
South Bethany BeachSussex1166%
South Indian River Inlet BeachSussex1166%
Tower Road-Ocean BeachSussex1166%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
South Beach (Key West)Monroe224351%
Robert J. Strickland BeachPasco192673%
Crandon Park - SouthMiami-Dade196728%
Higgs BeachMonroe184045%
Bayou ChicoEscambia162564%
Bayou TexarEscambia165131%
Crandon Park - NorthMiami-Dade146223%
Blue Mountain Beach AccessWalton124229%
Palma Sola SouthManatee124427%
North Shore Ocean TerraceMiami-Dade126219%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
St. Simons Island Lighthouse BeachGlynn94719%
5th St. Crossover (St. Simons Island)Glynn84617%
Tybee Island StrandChatham64513%
Tybee Island Polk St.Chatham54411%
East Beach Old Coast Guard (St. Simons Island)Glynn54511%
Massengale (St. Simons Island)Glynn54511%
Kings FerryChatham44100%
4H Camp (Jekyll)Glynn4449%
Jekyll Driftwood BeachGlynn4459%
Jekyll North at Dexter LaneGlynn3437%
Tybee Island MiddleChatham3437%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Kuliouou BeachHonolulu101191%
Hanalei Beach Co. Park*Kauai95915%
Niu BeachHonolulu81080%
Kalapaki BeachKauai74815%
Beach House BeachKauai41040%
Queen’s Surf Beach ParkHonolulu42417%
Honoli’I Beach Co. ParkHawaii42715%
Hanauma BayHonolulu4439%
Kualoa Co. Regional ParkHonolulu4488%
Kuhio Beach ParkHonolulu4567%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
63rd Street BeachCook1910119%
Calumet South BeachCook1810218%
South Shore BeachCook1710117%
Rainbow BeachCook1610216%
Margaret T Burroughs (31st St. Beach)Cook1510115%
Rogers Avenue Park BeachCook128614%
Ohio Street BeachCook1010010%
Hartigan BeachCook1010210%
Montrose BeachCook9999%
Kathy Osterman BeachCook81018%

State beach data is from alternate data source. See Methodology for details.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Jeorse Park Beach ILake289430%
Jeorse Park Beach IILake209421%
Whihala Beach WestLake179318%
Indiana Dunes State Park West BeachPorter1410114%
Washington Park BeachLaPorte1411312%
Buffington Harbor BeachLake139314%
Broadway BeachPorter1010110%
Hammond Marina East BeachLake91019%
Whihala Beach EastLake8939%
Ogden Dunes West BeachPorter81018%
Beach nameParishPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Lake Charles North BeachCalcasieu203067%
Fontainebleau State ParkSt. Tammany192966%
Rutherford BeachCameron133043%
Cypremort Point State ParkSt. Mary103033%
Holly Beach - 6Cameron103033%
Holly Beach - 1Cameron83027%
Constance BeachCameron73023%
Grand Isle State Park - 1Jefferson73023%
Little FloridaCameron73023%
Long BeachCameron73023%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Tenean BeachSuffolk449049%
Kings Beach*Essex438849%
Malibu BeachSuffolk208723%
Wollaston at Channing StreetNorfolk208723%
Constitution Beach*Suffolk198722%
Wollaston at Sachem StreetNorfolk158717%
Wollaston at Milton StreetNorfolk148716%
Wollaston at Rice RoadNorfolk138715%
Landing RoadPlymouth82138%
Salt PondBarnstable82335%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Ocean City Beach 3*Worcester82829%
Ocean City Beach 6Worcester62821%
Ocean City Beach 4Worcester52818%
Grove Point CampCecil3560%
YMCA Camp Tockwogh*Kent3743%
Assateague State Park*Worcester31619%
Breezy PointCalvert31718%
Mayo Beach ParkAnne Arundel31718%
Ocean City Beach 1Worcester32811%
Echo Hill Camp (Youth Camp)*Kent2729%
Ferry ParkKent2729%
Gunpowder Falls - Hammerman AreaBaltimore2729%
Tolchester Marina and BeachKent2729%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Goose Rocks Beach*York122744%
Riverside (Ogunquit)York71839%
Little BeachYork41527%
Short Sands BeachYork41527%
Cape Neddick BeachYork41625%
Higgins Beach*Cumberland31520%
East End BeachCumberland32711%
Gooch’s Beach*York21315%
Laite BeachKnox21315%
Drakes Island Beach*York21414%
Ferry Beach (Scarborough)Cumberland21414%
Long Sands Beach - North*York21414%
Mitchell Field BeachCumberland21414%
York Harbor BeachYork21414%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
South Linwood Beach Township ParkBay134132%
Lake St. Clair Metropark BeachMacomb105319%
Pier ParkWayne81844%
St. Clair Shores Memorial Park BeachMacomb85016%
Singing Bridge BeachArenac71258%
Brissette Beach Township ParkBay63915%
Pere Marquette ParkMuskegon51242%
New Baltimore Park BeachMacomb55010%
Holland State ParkOttawa4850%
First Street BeachManistee41136%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Park Point Sky Harbor Parking Lot BeachSt. Louis93129%
Agate Bay BeachLake51828%
Burlington Bay BeachLake31520%
Durfee Creek Area BeachCook21414%
Grand Marais Campground BeachCook21414%
French River BeachSt. Louis1128%
Bluebird Landing BeachSt. Louis1138%
Chicago Bay Boat Launch BeachCook1138%
Gooseberry Falls State Park BeachLake1147%
Tettegouche State Park BeachLake1147%
Twin Points Public Access BeachLake1147%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Pass Christian West BeachHarrison446271%
Waveland BeachHancock436269%
Bay St. Louis BeachHancock385175%
Pass Christian Central BeachHarrison315161%
Gulfport Central BeachHarrison305060%
Shearwater BeachJackson275054%
Pass Christian East BeachHarrison254951%
Gulfport West BeachHarrison244553%
Long BeachHarrison244652%
East Courthouse RoadHarrison214646%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Colington Harbour BeachDare63318%
Pamlico River - City Park in WashingtonBeaufort51926%
Public Beach Southside of Dawson Creek BridgePamlico52025%
Ragged PointBeaufort53415%
Pamlico River Railroad TrestleBeaufort41822%
New BernCraven41921%
Dawson CreekPamlico42020%
Pantego CreekBeaufort43212%
Bogue Sound - Goose CreekCarteret31916%
Dinah’s LandingBeaufort31916%
Vandemere CreekPamlico31916%
Washington - Southeast of Washington Pt.Beaufort31916%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
North Hampton State Beach*Rockingham73421%
New Castle Town Beach*Rockingham32512%
Wallis Sands Beach at Wallis Road*Rockingham2258%
Foss Beach*Rockingham1911%
Sawyer Beach*Rockingham1138%
Jenness Beach at Cable Road*Rockingham1147%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Beachwood Beach West*Ocean91850%
Barnegat Light Bay Beach*Ocean92143%
Windward Beach*Ocean82138%
Harvey Cedars Borough at 75th Bay Front*Ocean41625%
Sea Girt Borough at New York Blvd*Monmouth41822%
Wildwood City at Bennett*Cape May42020%
Surf City Borough at 16th St. Bay FrontOcean31323%
Belmar Borough at L Street Beach*Monmouth31520%
Belmar Borough at 20th*Monmouth31718%
Long Branch City at Elberon Beach ClubMonmouth31718%
Somers Point City at New Jersey Ave*Atlantic31718%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Tanner ParkSuffolk567971%
Woodlawn Beach State Park*Erie4310342%
Sayville Marina ParkSuffolk345661%
Hamburg Bathing BeachErie329534%
Valley Grove BeachSuffolk275153%
Venetian ShoresSuffolk255149%
Benjamins BeachSuffolk255744%
East Islip BeachSuffolk214745%
Hewlett BeachNassau215737%
Huntington Beach Community AssociationSuffolk194542%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Maumee Bay State Park (Inland)Lucas385866%
Villa Angela State ParkCuyahoga368542%
Euclid State ParkCuyahoga317144%
Lakeview BeachLorain255942%
Lagoons BeachErie247233%
Century BeachLorain235939%
Beulah BeachErie237232%
Sherod Park BeachErie227231%
Main Street BeachErie217130%
Bay View WestErie207228%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Seal Rock State Recreation Site*Lincoln131776%
Nye Beach*Lincoln121486%
Rockaway Beach*Tillamook91090%
Sunset Bay State Park*Coos91090%
Cannon Beach*Clatsop91182%
D River State Wayside*Lincoln91369%
Neskowin Beach State Wayside*Tillamook81080%
Agate Beach State Wayside*Lincoln81267%
Bastendorf Beach*Coos6786%
Hubbard Creek Beach at Humbug Mountain State Park*Curry6967%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Erie Beach 11*Erie93228%
Barracks Beach*Erie62921%
Beach 1 East*Erie53216%
Beach 6*Erie33110%
Beach 9 (Pine Tree Beach)*Erie2307%
Beach 8 (Pettinato Beach)*Erie2316%
Beach 7 (Water Works Beach)*Erie1284%
Beach 10 (Budny Beach)*Erie1293%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameMunicipioPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Tropical BeachNaguabo153247%
Playa GuayanesYabucoa112938%
Playa Villa LamelaCabo Rojo83027%
Balneario Pico De PiedraAguada62722%
Muelle De AreciboArecibo52818%
Balneario PatillasPatillas42516%
Playa MojacasabeCabo Rojo42715%
Balneario Crash BoatAguadilla32512%
Balneario De HumacaoHumacao32612%
Balneario Puerto NuevoVega Baja32711%
Balneario SardineraDorado32711%
Playa Ocean ParkSan Juan32711%

Note: At the time of analysis, Puerto Rico was still submitting 2019 beach data, and results may change following that process.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Easton’s Beach*Newport143441%
Scarborough State Beach - South*Washington134032%
Third Beach*Newport92536%
Scarborough State Beach - North*Washington82631%
Saunderstown Yacht Club*Washington6875%
Gooseberry Beach*Newport51436%
Bonnet Shores Beach Club*Washington41331%
Conimicut Point Beach*Kent42715%
Sandy Point Beach*Newport42715%
Oakland Beach*Kent42814%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Myrtle Beach*Horry415082%
Briarcliffe Acres*Horry184937%
Surfside Beach*Horry162759%
North Myrtle Beach*Horry95217%
Horry County Beaches South Carolina Campgrounds*Horry82040%
Hilton Head Island*Beaufort31030%
Harbor Island*Beaufort31225%
Horry County Beach Arcadia Beach*Horry32313%
Horry County Beaches South Carolina State ParkHorry22110%
Sullivan’s Island*Charleston11010%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Sargent Beach*Matagorda9610294%
Sylvan Beach Park*Harris888999%
Palacios Pavilion*Matagorda809584%
Jetty Park*Matagorda789681%
Surfside*Brazoria759381%
Follets Island*Brazoria718782%
Quintana*Brazoria698978%
Cole Park*Nueces678084%
Bryan BeachBrazoria527966%
Ropes ParkNueces486475%

* Beach has more than one associated testing site, which may affect number of potentially unsafe days.

Beach nameCounty or independent cityPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
Hilton BeachNewport News81553%
King/Lincoln ParkNewport News51729%
Fairview BeachKing George41527%
Anderson’s BeachNewport News41724%
Huntington BeachNewport News41724%
Captains QuartersNorfolk42020%
Ocean View Park, East Side of Parking LotNorfolk32015%
Kiptopeke State ParkNorthampton21612%
Town of Cape Charles Public BeachNorthampton21612%
Salt PondsHampton21811%
Beach nameCountyPotentially unsafe days in 2019Days with testingPercentage of testing days with potentially unsafe water
South Shore BeachMilwaukee195833%
Fish Creek BeachDoor172181%
Thompson West End Park BeachBayfield123139%
Blue Rail Marina BeachManitowoc124328%
Ephraim BeachDoor125621%
Red Arrow Park Beach ManitowocManitowoc84219%
Pennoyer Park BeachKenosha73123%
Eichelman BeachKenosha74316%
Murphy Park BeachDoor75513%
Kreher Park BeachAshland62821%
Maslowski BeachAshland62821%

Beaches in where water tests show the highest number of potentially unsafe days.

Fecal contamination makes beaches unsafe for swimming. Human contact with contaminated water can result in gastrointestinal illness as well as respiratory disease, ear and eye infection and skin rash. Each year in the U.S., swimmers in oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds suffer from an estimated 57 million cases of recreational waterborne illness.

Do you love the beach?

Help keep your favorite beach safe and clean for your next visit. Join the wave of supporters urging senators to protect our beaches from pollution that puts swimmers and beachgoers at risk.

URGENT: Critical votes are happening soon, so please act now.

Photos: top-right, R Boed via flickr.com, CC-BY-2.0; others, public domain.

Our beaches are at risk. Runoff from paved surfaces, overflows from aging sewage systems, and manure from industrial livestock operations all threaten the waters where Americans swim. These pollution threats are getting worse with climate change, as more extreme precipitation events bring heavy flows of stormwater.

  • Sprawling development has created more impervious surfaces that cause runoff pollution and has destroyed natural areas like wetlands that protect beaches from contamination. From 1996 to 2010, U.S. coastal regions added 3.6 million acres of development, while losing 982,000 acres of wetland and millions of acres of forest.
  • America’s sewage infrastructure is deteriorating and outdated. Many communities, particularly around the Great Lakes, still use “combined sewers” that were designed to discharge sewage directly to waterways during heavy rainfall. Sanitary sewers, which are designed to carry sewage alone, can also spill dangerous sewage if they are not properly maintained, and overflow as many as 75,000 times each year in the U.S.
  • The rise of factory farms has resulted in large concentrations of livestock manure that cannot be stored safely and is often overapplied to crops. All too often, rainfall washes excess manure from cropland into our waterways where it can put swimmers’ health at risk. Animal manure also can contain pathogens that are resistant to antibiotics, creating added risk to public health.

Of more than 3,000 beaches sampled for bacteria across the country in 2019, 386 were potentially unsafe for swimming on at least 25% of days that testing took place.

  • As of May 2020, sampling data for 2019 from 3,172 beaches in 29 coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico was available through the National Water Quality Monitoring Council’s Water Quality Portal.
  • Of those beaches, 1,793 had bacteria levels indicating potentially unsafe levels of fecal contamination for swimming on at least one day, and 386 were potentially unsafe on at least 25 percent of the days that sampling took place.
  • Swimmers could also be at risk at additional beaches where no bacterial testing was conducted or available through the Water Quality Portal.
Our recommendations

To ensure that all of our beaches are safe for swimming, policymakers should work to protect beaches from runoff and sewage pollution – including by stopping pollution at its source, and by protecting natural areas. Solutions include:

  • Dramatically increasing funding to fix sewage systems and prevent runoff pollution through natural and green infrastructure, including rain barrels, permeable pavement and green roofs.
  • Protecting wetlands, which filter out pollutants like bacteria.
  • Enacting moratoriums on new or expanded industrial-scale livestock operations, particularly in areas that threaten our beaches and other waterways.

Policymakers should also ensure that swimmers are presented with the best-possible information to make decisions regarding their health. Officials should expand funding for beach testing, to ensure adequate testing at all beaches. States should use EPA’s most protective “Beach Action Value” bacteria standard for making beach advisory decisions and should work to implement same-day bacteria testing and warning systems.


Did you find this information useful? Please help us keep up this work. To make change, we need to first understand the problems we’re trying to solve. And that takes research. We release hard-hitting reports produced by our research partners each year focusing on policy solutions we could pursue to address environmental issues ranging from climate change to conservation. You can help with a gift of $5 or more.