WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Foul water forced U.S. officials to issue health warnings or close beaches for more days than ever last year, an environmental group that is suing the government over water safety standards said on Thursday.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said in a report that ocean, bay and Great Lakes beaches were closed or health advisories issued for a total of more than 20,000 days last year, up 5 percent from 2004.
The group blamed the rise in days that the water was found to be unsafe on heavy rain, better monitoring and more coastal development.
"Those violations are pretty good indications that the beach water was contaminated with human and animal waste, and that beach goers were either swimming in that waste or banned from doing so due to the health risks," the report said.
But the group argued that even the beaches that were deemed safe may be hazardous because the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to update beach water quality standards, which are 20 years old.
The EPA was supposed to update its standards by October 2005 but says it will be unable to finish the process until 2011, the NRDC said.
The group filed suit against the EPA on Thursday to force it to establish tougher standards.
Overall, the NRDC found that 8 percent of beach water tested failed to meet federal health standards, with Mississippi's beaches the dirtiest. A total of 22 percent of tests done there found the water violated health standards.
New Hampshire and Delaware had the cleanest beaches, with their beaches found to be dirty just 1 percent and less than 1 percent of the time, respectively.