Beach Time! Carefree Fun, Right?

Not to rain on anyone’s sand castle, but given the current state of environmental affairs, there are a few unexpected beach hazards parents should be aware of before jumping in and riding the waves—as evidenced by rising pollution-related beach closings, the two main issues families should focus on before hitting the beach are water and sand. Here’s the skinny on both:

The basics: Water is polluted via runoff (which can include all sorts of contaminants like oil, grease, and pesticide residue), sewage, trash (especially enormous patches of degrading plastic), and animal fecal matter. These bring up gastroenteritis concerns. Grim. Thankfully, the NRDC offers family-friendly ratings of popular beaches as part of its, “Testing The Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches” report. It’s simple to check out your beach before taking the plunge. (There’s also more information on water pollution sources, if you want to learn more.)

Though the public health risk with sand is murkier to qualify than with water, the EPA says beach sand can “harbor even more harmful bacteria than nearby bathing waters.” Parents would be wise to keep in mind that sand can contain potentially harmful microorganisms, trash, and other unsavory elements. So always wash hands—big and small—after digging and before eating, and try to keep the smallest members of your family from eating the sand directly.

Now that you’re in the know, you can get back to the matter at hand: having fun.