Beachgoers, Beware

A man wearing a hat with the traditional decoration "Gamsbart" (beard of chamois) is silhouetted as he watches Pope Benedict XVI, center, celebrating a public Mass at the fair ground in Munich, Germany, on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2006.
AP Photo/Markus Schreiber
There was fear and loathing on the beaches of New Jersey over Memorial Day weekend, as some beach-goers steer clear of the waves and environmentalists drum up support to stop waste dumping, CBS News Correspondent Jacqueline Adams reports.

On May 27 Sierra Club members asked for signatures on a petition and fishing boats and surfers assembled off the coast—all protesting the dumping of New York Harbor's toxin-laced mud 5 miles offshore.

Elliot Green has been coming to the New Jersey shore for years. The risk of swimming in New York garbage, though, keeps him and his kids out of the water.

"We love the beach. We love the water, but we also recognize the current brings a lot of New York City's material down here," said Green.

Making Waves Cautiously
Surf lovers check the weather - and the traffic perhaps - before heading to the shore. But how many check for a clean beach? According to the Clean Beaches Council, they should. See which states made its list.

Many of America’s waterways are clogged with sediment, silt and other material that has collected on the bottom. Some of this material is contaminated. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is dredging New York Harbor to remove some of this material and dumping some of it in the waters off the Garden State.

It's not a new practice. In 1997, the Environmental Protection Agency closed a long-used disposal site off Sandy Hook, New Jersey and designated a larger Historic Area Remediation Site—also off the Jersey shore—for dumping.

The EPA calls the material deposited at that site "clean remediation material," but environmentlists beg to differ.

According to Cindy Zipf of Clean Ocean Action, Green's fears of the water are founded.

"It is contaminated—highly contaminated—with PCBs, petroleum based contaminants, heavy metals and pesticides," she said of the water. "It's no one's rational definition of clean."

Environmentalists are disappointed that President Clinton, who yesterday called for the protection of the nation's fragile shoreline, allowed his administration to OK ocean dumping.

Zipf said, "Our ocean is under siege by this dministration because the federal agencies are dumping contaminated material into our ocean."

As potentially dangerous as mud dumping is, it isn't the only type of pollution that ought to concern beachgoers this summer.
"We have real problems with sewage overflows and sewage pollution and polluted sea water from city streets that empty out into the water through storm drains," said Sarah Chasis of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Last summer, there were some 7,000 beach closings nationwide-because of bacteria and viruses in the water which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and infections.

California saw hundreds of those closings, as did North Carolina, after the hurricanes. But at least those states regularly check their beach water.

Six states—Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oregon and Washington—don't test their ocean water and won't notify residents if there is a problem.

According to the NRDC, the total number of beach advisories and closures in 1998 was 75 percent higher than in 1997.