America's Most Contaminated Beaches

Rochester's Lake Ontario waterfront may be nice to look at, but the water is often unsafe to swim in, earning Ontario Beach Park special mention in the report as one of the nation's consistently dirtiest. According to John Ricci of the Ontario County Health Department, outflow from the polluted Genesee River is a contributing factor, and resulting algal blooms are often trapped near the beach by Charlotte Pier, he told a local affiliate of YNN.

One of the South's top vacation spots is also one of its dirtiest. For a state so proud of its beaches, South Carolina tests them at a comparatively low rate and has a higher than average threshold of contamination before it issues an advisory against swimming. The beaches in and around Myrtle Beach are the state's most frequently contaminated, the worst being at Myrtle Beach State Park, which flunked 20 percent of its water quality tests, but posted no warnings.

Ohio beachgoers should be wary of Lake Erie. The state ranked dead last in the report, with water samples failing quality tests more than 20 percent of the time statewide—for the third year straight. The NRDC recognized four Ohio beaches as "repeat offenders" for being consistently bad for five years in a row: Lakeshore Park in the eastern part of the state, Euclid (pictured) and Villa Angela State Parks in Cleveland, and Edson Creek beach in the west. The single grimiest, though, was the beach near the Camp Perry National Guard base, which was contaminated 70 percent of the time.

Surfers beware: Pillar Point, less than an hour south of San Francisco, is famous for its giant waves at Mavericks. Pillar Point Harbor (pictured) and nearby beaches are also among the most polluted areas in California to allow swimming and, yes, surfing. The section of harbor-sheltered beach called Pillar Point-Capistrano exceeded bacterial contamination standards 52 percent of the time it was tested last year. Although Mavericks Beach itself isn't regularly tested, another nearby beach had advisories for 84 days in 2012.

Chicago's Lake Michigan beaches may be a welcome relief on a hot summer day, but they fail water quality tests a tenth of the time. The worst is Montrose Beach—and Montrose Dog Beach in particular. The latter had high bacteria levels 38 percent of the time, and the human section 25 percent. And yet, despite almost daily water testing in season, only seven advisories were issued where people swim, and none on the dog beach.

On the whole, New Jersey has some of the best water quality standards in the nation, but the town of Beachwood, on the bay side opposite Seaside Heights, has had problems for years likely due to stormwater drainage issues and outflow from the Toms River. Beachwood Beach in particular had sub-standard bacteria levels 35 percent of the time and made NRDC's "repeat offender" list.

The NRDC ranked Texas 21st out of 30 states in terms of beach water quality, and the shores of Corpus Christi are a good example why. Three of the worst four beaches in the state were in this city, whose bay side is shielded from the Gulf of Mexico by Padre Island. (It's gulf-side beaches are considerably cleaner.)

Indiana may only kiss Lake Michigan, but its 45 miles of shoreline are among the nation's most polluted. Jeorse Park, not coincidentally adjacent to the Indiana Harbor Works, had swimming advisories for much of the 2012 season because of elevated E. coli levels. One section failed 70 percent of its water tests.

Although SoCal's beaches are among the nation's most beloved, some rank among its most soiled. Orange County's Poche County Beach and neighboring Doheny State Park stand out for their levels of bacterial filth, sparking public protests. Runoff from Poche Creek and seagull droppings have been blamed for the pollution that caused nearly constant advisories and closures last year, and earned the whole stretch a spot on NRDC's "repeat offenders" list. Next year may be better, though. Improvements to the local drainage system have boosted its 2013 ratings by California watchdog Heal the Bay.

New York State's Great Lake shores aren't the only troubled ones. This tony NYC suburb on Long Island Sound has multiple yacht clubs—and the most contaminated waters in the state, registering dangerous bacteria levels in half of its tests last year. And Hurricane Sandy isn't just to blame. Runoff in Mamaroneck's tucked-away coves take longer to flush out into the sound, Westchester's assistant health commissioner Pete DeLucia told local paper The Journal News.

Milwaukee's South Shore Beach is so plagued with pollution problems that local officials have mulled moving it 100 yards to the south, on the other side of a stone jetty that causes stagnant water to pool, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. NRDC called this beach one of the country's dirtiest, and last year it racked up 46 closing or advisory days, violating quality standards 43 percent of the time.

Avalon Beach, on the Channel Island of Santa Catalina, may just have the most contaminated swimming beach in the country. According to the L.A. Times, this popular SoCal sailing destination has a failing sewer system, causing raw human waste to seep into the harbor through the groundwater. One section of beach failed quality standards 83 percent of the time in 2012 and had 128 advisory or closing days.