Brooklyn Boro

Poop alert: 65% of NY beaches were ‘potentially unsafe’ for swimming on at least one day in 2018

July 31, 2019 Scott Enman
Coney Island

More than 65 percent of beaches in New York were “potentially unsafe” for swimming on at least one day in 2018 due to fecal contamination, according to a report released this month.

In New York State, 276 of the 422 beach sites tested by nonprofit Environment America were potentially unsafe for swimming on at least one day in 2018. One beach in Suffolk County was potentially unsafe for a total of 48 days — more than any other site.

“The Clean Water Act, adopted in 1972 with overwhelming bi-partisan support, had the farsighted and righteous goal of making all our waterways safe for swimming,” said the report, which was titled “Safe for Swimming?”

“Yet 46 years later, all too often, Americans visiting their favorite beach are met by an advisory warning that the water is unsafe for swimming. Even worse, in recent years millions of Americans have been sickened by swimming in contaminated water.”

Fecal contamination normally enters the water from sewage leaks and combined sewer overflow. When it rains, stormwater runoff and human waste combine to overwhelm the city’s sewer system, forcing the liquid, known as combined sewer overflow, or CSO, to be expelled into New York Harbor and its tributaries.

Contact with fecal matter can cause serious medical issues, according to Mike Dulong of Riverkeeper, a clean water nonprofit.

“Some of the dangers of raw sewage are with pathogens and bacteria that can cause illness, that can cause things like gastrointestinal illness, rashes, ear infections, eye infections, and it’s nasty stuff that you don’t want to be swimming in,” Dulong told the Brooklyn Eagle.

Swimmers in America contract roughly 57 million cases of recreational waterborne illness each year, according to the study.

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With intensifying rains, like the flash storm that flooded much of Brooklyn on July 22, environmental experts are warning that an increasing number of beaches could be closed because of bacteria in the water, especially during the summer season.

“What we are going to see in the future is more beach warnings, more beach closures,” Dulong said.

New York City’s public beaches were placed on warning 49 days last year, with one closure day, according to city data.

Neither Coney Island nor Manhattan Beach received any warnings or closures in 2018, but Gerritsen’s Kiddie Beach, which the city lists as private, had 36 warnings.

The report from Environment America sampled 2,627 sites across the country, including on both coasts, in the Great Lake states and in Puerto Rico. More than half of all the beaches tested came back with potentially unsafe results.

Sites are considered potentially unsafe if bacteria levels surpass the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Beach Action Value” of an estimated illness rate of 32 per 1,000 swimmers.

Riverkeeper’s water quality program director Dan Shapley told the Eagle that these national results mirror what is apparent in New York Harbor, the Hudson River and its tributaries: that far too many beaches are unsafe for swimming.

He said that while the country has made progress since the 1970s, there is still work to be done.

“The report calls for the right recipe of solutions,” he said, including “investments in sewage infrastructure to prevent overflows, in green infrastructure to reduce polluted runoff, and enforcement of our existing clean water laws, and upgrading of standards to ensure we continue to make progress.”

Follow reporter Scott Enman on Twitter.

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