Local health or environmental departments are required to monitor water quality and post warnings at beaches if they don't meet EPA standards. But many don't comply. The EPA suggests five water checks per month, but a 2001 EPA survey of 2,445 beaches found just 63% were tested at least once a week.
What You Can Do
Check for beach advisories or closings. In the EPA survey, 27% of beaches had at least one advisory or area closed during the swimming season; the main reason was elevated bacteria levels. Look up the latest water quality information for local beaches at www.epa.gov/waterscience/beaches or www.cleanbeaches.org, especially after a big storm, which can lead to significant sewage overflow or polluted storm-water run-off.
Opt for a beach with lifeguards. Not having them increases the risk of drowning five-fold, according to the United States Lifesaving Association (USLA). Ask lifeguards about the safest area to swim and hazards to avoid, like jelly fish. But perhaps lifeguards' most common task is something unexpected. "They frequently reunite parents and kids who have become separated," says B. Chris Brewster, USLA's liaison officer. More than 27,000 children were temporarily lost at the nation's beaches in 2000. If your child wanders off, tell a lifeguard.
Maintain constant supervision. Drownings often involve single swimmers. Young children should never enter the water without adult supervision and should be kept within arm's reach of an adult at all times. Also keep a close eye on your child when he's playing on the beach. Several children have died or been severely injured when they were buried in collapsed sand holes.
Teach older kids how to get out of a rip current. Rip currents are the top cause of injury and fatalities at beaches. So how can you escape one? Swim parallel to the beach rather than toward it.
Stick to U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets. Rafts, tubes, and other inflatable gear aren't safety devices, because they can suddenly lose air or slip out from underneath. They also may entice kids to go into water in which they normally wouldn't be comfortable. If your children do use these devices, stay with them at all times.
For more strategies to keep your kids safe this summer, check out the following organizations.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov. Read the new brochure "Twelve Steps for Prevention of Recreational Water Illnesses."
- Consumer Federation of America, www.consumerfed.org. Print out a form to survey your local playground.
- United States Lifesaving Association, www.usla.org. Look over the list of top 10 swim safety tips.
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, www.cpsc.gov. Review the safety checklists for public and home playground equipment.
Copyright © 2003. Reprinted with permission from the August 2003 issue of Child magazine.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.