August 11, 2007
As a heat wave drove more people to Virginia's beaches last week, a report offered some reassurance on the quality of their summer destination.
Hampton Roads is among the list of places nationally where swimmers can enjoy a pathogen-free dip, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Bacteria counts exceeded levels safe for swimming less than 1 percent of the time out of more than 800 water samples tested last year.
"It would be great if we had no exceedances at all," said Michele M. Monti, director of the Division of Environmental Epidemiology at the Virginia Department of Health. "But they are going to happen, especially if we've sampled close to a rainfall. We do know that after rain, bacteria levels in water are going to be higher than when it hasn't been raining."
In 2006, Virginia, with a total of 56 beaches along 70 miles of ocean and bay waters, issued eight coastal beach advisories and no closings; advisories totaling 43 days were issued compared with advisories totaling 42 days in 2005. Three of those were at two Virginia Beach beaches.
"Virginia and North Carolina both rank higher in terms of the percentage of samples that meet the public health standards," said Nancy Stoner, director of the council's clean water project. "Whether they're doing a good job, or it has to do with the wave action, I can't say. I can say their beaches are clean."
So far this beach season, swimmers have been advised to stay out of the water at three beaches for 26 days. Advisories have been posted at Fairview Beach in King George County, Anderson's Beach in Newport News and the beach at Cape Henry lighthouse in Virginia Beach. Twenty-three of the 26 days were at King George County's Fairview Beach on the Potomac River.
"Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches," released last week, revealed that more beach advisories and closures were issued nationwide in 2006 than at any other time in the 17 years the group has tracked them.