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Report: Are Maryland Beaches Safe for Swimming?

For Immediate Release

For Immediate Release: Thursday, July 23, 2020

Media Contact:  Kate Breimann, Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center, State Director

kbreimann@environmentmaryland.org, 276-229-9108

Are Maryland beaches safe for swimming? 

New report warns about contaminated water as Congress votes on funding to prevent pollution

Baltimore, MD – With summer in full swing, water pollution can close Maryland beaches or put swimmers' health at risk. Last year, bacteria levels at 41 Maryland beaches indicated that water was potentially unsafe for swimming there on least one day, according to the new report Safe for Swimming? by Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center.

“Even as Marylanders crave the fresh sea breeze and splash of waves at the beach this summer, pollution is still plaguing the places where we long to swim," said Kate Breimann, Director of Environment Maryland Research and Policy Center. "We can and must do a better job of keeping waste out of our water.”

To assess beach safety, the group examined whether fecal indicator bacteria levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most protective “Beach Action Value,” which is associated with an estimated illness rate of 32 out of every 1,000 swimmers. One beach site tested in Ocean City had bacteria levels above this safety threshold on 29% percent of days tested last year.

Other Maryland beaches found potentially unsafe for swimming at least once in 2019 include Assateague State Park, YMCA Camp Tockwogh, Mayo Beach Park, and Gunpowder Falls Hammerman area, among others. 

The Ocean City Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation works to ensure that Maryland’s oceans are clean and accessible for all Marylanders to join. Marina Feeser, Secretary of the Ocean City Chapter, commented on the importance of clean water to our state:

 "Clean water is the basis for our whole lifestyle in coastal Maryland,” said Feeser. “Our recreation and tourism economy, our environment, and our way of life -- from surfing and paddling, to beach days and Maryland seafood -- requires clean water. It's not something we can take for granted." 

Polluted runoff from roads and parking lots, overflowing or failing sewer systems, and farms are common sources of contamination that can put swimmers’ health at risk and lead authorities to close beaches or issue health advisories. Scientists estimate that 57 million instances of people getting sick each year from contact with polluted waters in the U.S.

In the Maryland General Assembly, Delegate Vaughn Stewart has sounded the alarm on the threat industrial agriculture poses to the state’s water quality.

“Manure runoff from factory farms remains a primary source of pollution in our waterways,” Stewart said. “Marylanders’ ability to safely swim in our state’s beaches should be prioritized over Big Ag’s profit margins.”

The report recommends major investments to prevent sewage overflows and runoff pollution.  The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote this week or next on $11 billion in emergency water infrastructure funding. 

“Let’s make our beaches safe for swimming by building the infrastructure that will keep the water clean,” said Breimann. “Wherever it is safe to go to the beach, let’s make sure it’s safe to go swimming in the water too.”

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The Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting Maryland’s air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decisionmakers, and help Marylanders make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information about Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center or for additional copies of this report, please visit www.environmentmarylandcenter.org.