Beach Water Quality Suffers
Heading to the beach before the end of summer? That water might not be as safe as you think it is.
The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico caused 2,239 days of closures, advisories and notices for beaches in that region so far this year.
In addition, there were 18,682 days of closures and advisories due to pollution and water contamination in 2009 for fresh- and salt-water beaches across the country. That's according to the 20th annual beach-water-quality report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental nonprofit.
"The findings this year demonstrate a persistent problem at many beaches across the country," says David Beckman, NRDC's water program director. Even before the oil spill, "seven percent of the water-quality samples taken last year flunked the national health standard."
Water contaminated with oil, sewage and storm run-off can cause illnesses, including stomach flu, dysentery, hepatitis, skin rashes and respiratory ailments, especially in children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
Even if you stay out of the water, breathing in the spray could still potentially lead to illness, Mr. Beckman says.
Government data used in the NRDC report show an 8% decrease in 2009 in closure and advisory days at beaches nationwide from 2008. The NRDC attributes this in part to a decrease in funding for water monitoring in Southern California (thus potentially underreporting what's there), as well as dry conditions in Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
The Great Lakes region had the most contaminated beach water last year for the fifth year in a row, with 13% of water samples violating public-health standards. The Southeast and Delmarva Peninsula was the cleanest, with 3% of samples contaminated, according to the report.
Individual states that performed poorly last year include Louisiana, with 25% of samples failing health standards before the oil spill, Rhode Island with 20% of samples failing and Illinois with a 16% rate of failure. The least-contaminated were New Hampshire with 1%, Delaware with 2% and Oregon with 2%.
The government's water-quality test consists of maximum allowable densities of bacteria—enterococcus and E.coli—associated with fecal matter in 100 milliliters of water.
The report also used a five-star rating system for 200 of the most-popular beaches in the U.S. It evaluates beach-water quality, how often officials monitor water quality and whether the public is sufficiently notified.
Some of the highest-rated individual beaches can be found in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and California.
At the other end of the spectrum with a one-star rating for last year were seven beaches in Florida, a section of Nags Head in North Carolina, three beaches in Maine and in Mississippi, four in South Carolina, including Myrtle Beach, Narragansett Town Beach in Rhode Island, and at least five beaches in New York, including sections of Rockaway Beach and Coney Island.
Travelers can check the beach-water report at NRDC.org/beaches.
Revenue across the hotel industry may be declining, but guests reported they are happier about their hotel stays this year. Overall guest satisfaction at North American hotels has improved from 2009, according to J.D. Power and Associates' 2010 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study released Tuesday.
A contributing factor to the increased satisfaction lies in lower room and occupancy rates, which can lead to faster check-in and check-out, as well as more-individualized service.
It is conventional wisdom in the industry that as rates rise, more guests complain or express their unhappiness. Therefore, hotels are focusing on ways to mitigate impending guest dissatisfaction.
Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company LLC had the highest overall satisfaction rating in the luxury segment and the study as a whole. "All luxury hotels have been offering improved value," says Simon Cooper, president of Ritz Carlton. "The key to our success was an increased focus on service."
Hilton Worldwide Inc.'s Hilton Garden Inn, which took the top spot in the mid-scale full-service segment for the eighth time in the past nine years, reminds guests of amenities like free wireless and remote printing. "We'll "push those things a little bit harder as the rate comes back up," says Adrian Kurre, Hilton Garden Inn's global brand head.—Anna Prior