Nationally, high bacteria levels in the water caused beach closings or advisories on a cumulative 20,000 plus days in 2012, the report says. An advisory is a recommendation that people take extra precautions in certain areas where contamination is high, but not high enough to close the beach.
Last summer, there were 2,000 closings or advisories issued for beaches in New Jersey and New York because of polluted water or the threat of contamination, according to the NRDC's Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches.
New Jersey was ranked seventh in the nation for beach-water quality, with 245 beaches that were either closed or had an advisory issued because of contamination.
Devine said overall year-to-year pollution had remained constant."We're seeing the same unacceptable level of closings and advisories every year," Devine said.
The Great Lakes Region had the highest violation rate, with 10 percent of the water samples taken at beaches not meeting clean-water standards.
The best scores came from the Delmarva Peninsula, with contamination in only 3 percent of the samples.
Nonetheless, 10 New Jersey beaches attained four out of a possible five stars for meeting the agency's quality standards, including one in Monmouth County, one in Ocean County, three in Atlantic County, and five in Cape May County.
The report analyzed Environmental Protection Agency data on beach-water testing results from the summer of 2012 at more than 3,000 testing locations nationwide, providing information on water quality, beach closings, and swimming advisories. For the second summer in a row, beachgoers can use a zip-code searchable map tool to access the results at www.nrdc.org/beaches.
The NRDC released its findings just as the summer swimming season is getting underway in coastal areas on the East Coast. Officials with the agency say the nation's beach water continues to suffer from serious contamination and pollution by human and animal waste, the NRDC's Lawrence Levine said.
"From the Jersey Shore, to New York City's beaches to the Hamptons, no one wants to go swimming in sewage on their summer vacation," Levine said. "Polluted water is not only bad for people's health, but bad for local business in beach communities. By tackling contamination at its source - storm-water runoff - we can help prevent a trip to the shore from turning into a trip to the doctor."
The NRDC's report rates 200 popular U.S. beaches, evaluating their water quality and testing practices and procedures for public notification.
This year's report gave a "Superstar" rating to 13 beaches - none in New Jersey - that had consistently earned a five-star rating over the past five years. It also highlighted the top 11 repeat offenders - including Beachwood Beach in Ocean County - where chronically high bacteria counts were repeatedly exhibited. A call to the borough for comment was not immediately returned.
Consistent with past years, the most common known cause of contamination was storm water, while sewage overflows were also a common contributor. This season, following Hurricane Sandy, there is added concern about contamination. Because of lingering damage from the storm and debris in the water, nine area beaches remain closed, although most are expected to reopen this season. Only the Berkeley Island beach, part of the Ocean County park system, will remain closed indefinitely because of structural damage and a washed-out road, officials said.
"Sandy highlighted the vulnerability of our beach communities," Devine said.
The best beaches in New Jersey, according to the NRDC are: Seventh Avenue Beach in Belmar; Broadway in Point Pleasant Beach; 15th Street South in Brigantine; Chelsea in Atlantic City; Washington in Margate; Webster in Strathmere; 40th Street in Sea Isle City; 40th Street in Avalon; 96th Street in Stone Harbor; and Orchid in Wildwood Crest.
The NRDC says beachgoers are advised to stay safe by following a few simple suggestions: Don't swim near outfall pipes or where the water looks murky or smells bad; don't dunk one's head in the water at questionable beaches; never ingest beach water.
Contact Jacqueline L. Urgo
at 609-652-8382 or email@example.com. Read the Jersey Shore blog "Downashore" at inquirer.com/downashore. Follow on Twitter @JacquelineUrgo.