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Beach Bacteria Leaves Swimmers Stranded at Shore

A prominent environmental organization has called for better monitoring of the water quality along many of America's beaches. The Natural Resources Council report says high levels of bacteria have been found in the water. VOA's Melinda Smith reports dangerous beaches are not unique to the United States.

The warning comes as millions of families worldwide are spending their summer vacations at the shore. In 2005, there were more than 20,000 U.S. cases of water contamination.

Nancy Stoner of the Natural Resources Defense Council says the signs of pollution are not always visible. "Often the water looks clean. It may smell clean and it may be very inviting, but it can be filled with high levels of dangerous bacteria."

Everything from household trash -- like toilet paper -- to sewage spills and runoff.

Environmental specialist Brad Delashumutt monitors the water at Virginia Beach, Virginia. He says high bacteria levels can even be caused by bird droppings.

"You can get a large flock of seagulls concentrated in an area of the beach that can raise the levels."

Virginia Beach health authorities issued a swimming advisory on one one-and-a-half kilometer stretch, after high levels of fecal matter were found in the water. In Port Angeles, Washington, 48 kilometers of shoreline were closed after the city's main sewer line broke down.

Beach bacteria is believed to be a worldwide problem, particularly in countries with little or no standards about sewage runoff. But it is difficult to find records of beach closings because of water bacteria.

The World Health Organization does not list countries with 'problem' beaches. Environmentalists say there is often pressure from the local tourism industry to keep this kind of bad news quiet.

No matter which country they live in, children and the elderly are especially susceptible to waterborne bacteria. It can cause serious intestinal problems. Gastro-enteritis, diarrhea, hepatitis and kidney infections are common results.

As one environmentalist put it, 'A day at the beach should not mean a night spent in the bathroom. Or even worse, in the emergency room.'