If you're thinking of hitting the beach anytime this summer, the Natural Resources Defense Council suggests you're much less likely to get sick playing in the surf at Ocean City or at Dewey and Rehoboth beaches in Delaware.
The New York-based environmental group rates the Atlantic beaches closest to most Marylanders "superstars" for water quality, awarding them five stars for ensuring the health of bathers, along with 11 other beaches nationwide. Ocean City has gotten the group's five-star rating every years since 2008.
The water is tested twice a week at O.C., the NRDC reported, and just 4 percent of samples taken last year in the stretch from 124th Street north to the Delaware line had bacteria levels that exceeded state water-quality limits. Only that northern portion of Ocean City's beach was rated.
The beaches at Rehoboth Avenue in Rehoboth and at Dagsworthy Street in Dewey also get tested twice a week, according to the group, and have even fewer elevated bacteria readings.
In fact, Delaware as a whole earned top honors in NRDC's report card for monitoring water quality and ensuring bather safety at all of its beaches. Maryland, by comparison, came in 11th among states.
Nationwide, the environmental group said the number of beach closings last year for unsanitary conditions dropped 14 percent, but it said that was largely because drier weather washed less pollution into the water.
Even so, it said the number of closings and swim advisories topped 20,000 across the U.S. in 2012 -- a level exceeded for the eighth time in the past nine years. Such a string of closings and advisories indicates serious water pollution persists, the group said. The most common reason for closing a beach or issuing an advisory against swimming is a test showing excessive levels of bacteria, indicating the presence of human or animal waste in the water.
The NRDC contends that beach water quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency aren't protective enough, and it's threatened to file suit if they aren't strengthened.
The group contends EPA standards allow beaches to be considered safe even if up to 10 percent of samples exceed bacteria limits, a rate that could allow one in 28 bathers to come down with GI distress. Moreover, the NRDC complains the agency has neglected to set standards aimed at preventing skin rashes and ear infections from contact with tainted water.