The Clean Water Act, adopted in 1972, set the goal of making all of our waterways safe for swimming. Nearly a half-century later, Amer icans 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 328 beaches – more than one of every 10 beaches surveyed – were potentially unsafe on at least 25% of the days that sampling took place in 2020. More than half of all the 3,166 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.
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., people contract an estimated 57 million cases of recreational waterborne illness from swimming in oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds.
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.
Transportation is one of Pennsylvania’s leading sources of the air pollution that harms our health and contributes to global warming. One-quarter of Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation and more than a third of the nitrogen oxide emissions that contribute to harmful ozone smog come from highway vehicles.
To prevent air and water pollution and avoid the worstimpacts of global warming, America must move toward meeting our energy needs with 100% renew-able energy. Getting there will require that we get the most out of every bit of energy we use — and that we stop burn-ing fossil fuels in our homes and commercial buildings.
Plastic is everywhere and in everything. It’s used as packaging, it’s in food service products, and it’s in clothing. All told, Americans generate over 35 million tons of plastic waste every year, 90% of which is landfilled or incinerated.1 In fact, the U.S. throws out enough plastic every 16 hours to fill the Dallas Cowboys stadium, and that amount is increasing.
THE VAST MAJORITY of school buses in the United States run on diesel, a fossil fuel that has been shown to cause numerous health problems, including asthma, bronchitis, and cancer. Diesel exhaust is also a greenhouse gas, which contributes to climate change. However, there is an alternative: zero-emission battery electric school buses.
PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center is part of The Public Interest Network, which operates and supports organizations committed to a shared vision of a better world and a strategic approach to social change.