Pinellas Beaches among cleanest in the nation

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Pinellas County beaches are among the cleanest in the nation. A report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council shows that most Tampa Bay region beaches are consistently safe for swimming. Steve Fleischli is the water program director for the group. He says the water quality tests look for harmful bacteria.

“…that can cause a grim inventory of illnesses like dysentery, hepatitis, stomach flu, infections and rashes.”

Ten beaches in Pinellas County were tested. Most of them passed every time. The four that failed only did so about one sample out of 26. And Fort DeSoto is listed on the NRDC website as a superstar of clean beaches. Sixteen beaches were tested in Sarasota County with similar results. For example, only 2% of water samples in South Lido Beach failed. But in Tampa, Ben T. Davis North beach didn’t fare so well. It failed 25% of the water quality tests taken last year. Jon Devine, a water attorney with the NRDC who was also on a conference call Wednesday morning, says that’s higher the national average.

“Ten percent of all water quality samples collected last year from nearly 3500 coastal and Great Lakes beaches in the U.S. contained bacteria levels that failed to meet the EPA’s most protective benchmark for swimmer safety.”

Ben T. Davis is the only beach in the entire Tampa Bay region that failed more than 6% of water quality tests. But it’s massively cleaner than a bunch of summer swimming spots in Ohio and other Great Lakes areas. Fleischli, the water program director, says even clean water can improve by implementing a water protection rule and reducing polluted runoff.

“You might think of rain water with only leaves and twigs in it flowing into a storm drain on its way to a wastewater treatment plant. The reality though is much different. The water often includes trash, chemicals, oil, animal and human waste as well as bacteria and viruses. It really is all of our urban slobber flowing untreated into local waterways.”

Pretty gross, right? But it gets worse — poop.

“Yes, raw sewage. These systems are intentionally designed to overflow during rain storms, sometimes even relatively modest storms, and when they do over flow, that mixture is deposited wherever the water finally comes to rest including our beaches.”

Even though Tampa Bay area beaches made the good-list, Fleischli says it’s still important to make sure swimming is safe. People should check for swim advisory signs posted at beaches and avoid swimming near drainage pipes or by creeks flowing into waterways. He also suggests avoiding swimming at beaches during or immediately after a rainstorm.

Check out the report here.