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What are they?

A beach is the sandy, pebbly, or rocky shore of a body of water. Beaches provide valuable habitat for plants and animals, recreation for millions of people, and protection from wind and waves for people living near the ocean. 

Why are they a concern?

Beaches can pose human health risks if the water is polluted. Swimming or playing in polluted water can cause illnesses, including stomach problems, fever, and meningitis. Polluted beach water can nourish harmful algae blooms and make it unsafe to eat local fish or shellfish. Trash or litter can make it unsafe to walk on the beach. 


At ocean beaches, strong surf and riptides can cause injuries to swimmers and surfers. Drowning is always a risk. Marine animals that sting, bite, or give off poisons may come near shore. 


Because of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, overexposure to the sun at the beach can cause skin cancer, early aging of the skin, cataracts, and weakened immune systems.

Who is at risk?

Children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are most likely to become ill after coming into contact with polluted water, usually while swimming. 

Polluted water can expose swimmers to harmful microorganisms called pathogens. Most swimmers are exposed to waterborne pathogens when they swallow the water. People can get some infections by getting polluted water on their skin, in their eyes, or on an open wound. 

What pollutants are of greatest concern?

Waterborne pathogens can cause gastroenteritis, an intestinal infection marked by diarrhea, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

Reduce your risk

  • Do you vacation at the beach?
  • Check for signs of riptides or strong currents before swimming. Know how to swim out of rip currents and undertows.
  • Know your limits. Stay out of strong currents even if you are a strong swimmer.
  • Learn CPR.
  • Never swim alone.
  • Never dive into water unless you know beforehand how deep it is.
  • Use sunscreen or sunblock to avoid sunburn.
  • Check beach advisories for water pollution. Go to the EPA Beach Advisory and Closing website: 
  • Do not let children swim alone.
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