Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Filth Level of New York Beaches, By The Numbers

Posted By on Thu, Jun 27, 2013 at 4:47 PM

  • Photo via Last Night's Garbage

Now, most of us make a lot of jokes about contracting gonorrhea or whatever from a trip to a city beach, but no one really believes that, right? At a certain point you have stop worrying about germs and live your life, even if that means getting in the water down at Brighton Beach (where, for what it's worth, I've never found anything worse than a small, dying shark).

And mercifully, it seems like the "eh, fuck it" approach here is actually the right one. According to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, the situation with New York's beaches really isn't all that bad, in spite of somewhat frequent sewage spills (Sandy alone dumped 5 billion gallons worth), issues with stormwater runoff, and the fact that none of our local waterfronts qualified for the report's coveted 5 star top rating. And the fact that apparently "[combined sewage overflows]discharged from New York City also carry floating debris made up of street litter and toilet waste such as hygiene products." In spite of all this, it's mostly still fine.

But, as with everything in this world, there's a hierarchy. Some beaches are cleaner than others. So, using the NRDC's detailed rating rubric, let's take a look at the relative safety of some of New York's most popular beaches. It's comforting, mostly.

  • Photo via Frogma

Coney Island
Maybe more than any other area beach, Coney Island seems to get constant flack for being some kind of garbage-strewn hell hole remnant of the city's lowest low points—if we never hear another joke about finding syringes in the sand, it'll be too soon. The reality of the situation isn't nearly that bad. At least, not if you stick to the main area around Ocean Parkway and West 8th, which got 4 out of 5 stars—it only lost points for not having water quality monitored more than once a week. It gets dicier further out, though, and outposts at West 8th and the Pier, 16th-27th St., and West 28th-West 37th st. all rated just two stars. Stick to the main boardwalk, is the takeaway here.

  • Photo via Airninja

Brighton Beach
Again, really not so bad! The beaches in Kings County were actually ranked the second cleanest in the entire state, with a relatively low 5 percent rate of water samples taken that exceeded "daily maximum bacterial standard." A measuring station at the border of Brighton and Coney warranted a rating of 4 out of 5 stars, and a bit further down between 15th and 6th St., the area garnered a still-respectable 3 star rating, and zero percent of samples taken exhibited dangerous or illegal levels of contamination.

  • Photo via New York Writes Itself
  • Self-explanatory.

The Rockaways
For such a wide stretch of territory, the quality level here is pretty uniform, and reassuring. None of the areas monitored reported any water samples that exceeded state standards, and the one area that was officially rated—116th St. to 126th St., near Jacob Riis Park and Fort Tilden, which don't have info marked on the map—merited a four star rating in 2012. Not shabby at all.

  • Photo via The Weekly Nabe

Breezy Point
Just a little ways down, Breezy Point didn't fare nearly as well. There was no official rating given to the area, and while the water around Reid Ave. was reliably safe, data taken at 219th St. near Breezy Point Tip showed a whopping 12 percent of samples with excess pollution. As NRDC senior attorney Lawrence Levine said in a press release accompanying the data, “No one wants to go swimming in sewage on their summer vacation. Polluted water is not only bad for people’s health, but bad for local business in beach communicates." No arguments here.


Gerritsen Beach
In spite of its relatively secluded location at the tip of Marine Park, 12 percent of samples taken at Gerritsen Beach exceeded government standards. There were also 21 recorded "notification days," which happen for "closings, postings, advisories, and warnings." Most other beaches on the map didn't have any in 2012, and even Breezy Point clocked in at 14.

  • Photo via NYCgovparks

Manhattan Beach
Though dirtier than nearby Brighton, Manhattan Beach actually came out of this looking alright, with just two notification days overall (and no official starred ranking). The water quality seemed variable, though, with a monitoring station near Kingsborough Community College reporting zero irregular samples, while seven percent of readings at nearby Manhattan Beach Park proved worrisome.

So what does any of this mean, really? Well, it means that a lot of areas are still fighting their way back to pre-Sandy form in more ways than one, and that the NRDC is pretty correct in its assessment that the city needs to seriously address sewage leaks and storm runoff with measures like porous sidewalks, green rooftops, and "rain gardens." More immediately? It means nothing bad is going to happen if you go in the water this summer. Go, commune with nature. It'll be worth the miniscule risk.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

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About The Author

Virginia K. Smith

Virginia K. Smith

Virginia K. Smith is the Assistant Editor at The L Magazine and a Bushwick resident. Her profile picture was taken at Summerscreen, because she is a real team player.

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