Report: American Beaches Are Brimming With Bacteria

kieferpix/iStock via Getty Images
kieferpix/iStock via Getty Images

A day at the beach is not always a day at the beach. According to a new report on water quality at 4523 beaches across the United States, more than half demonstrated potentially unsafe levels of bacteria for at least one day in 2018. The main culprit? Fecal contamination. If that makes you feel like packing up your beach umbrella and towels, there are some caveats to keep in mind.

The report [PDF] was prepared by Environment America Research and Policy Center, which examined the water quality of beaches in 29 states and Puerto Rico in 2018 using data collected by local, state, and federal agencies. Of the sites evaluated, 2620 were considered unsafe to swim in for at least one day. Six hundred and five sites were unsafe on 25 percent of the days that samples were collected. The determination was made by examining bacteria levels according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s threshold, or Beach Action Value (BAV). That guideline specifies contamination as being unsafe if levels could conceivably make 32 out of 1000 swimmers ill.

The triggering element? Poop. Specifically, bacteria from fecal matter that’s present in water as a result of storm runoff from urban areas. The rainwater can pick up bacteria from yards or streets and flow into water; sewage leaks can also be at fault. Germs like Escherichia coli or Enterococcus seep into the water and can then be introduced to swimmers' gastrointestinal systems when they swallow water, causing illness. The bacteria can also prompt skin infections or respiratory disease.

In Florida, 180 of 263 beach sites tested exceeded the BAV limits. In New York, 276 of 422 sites were deemed unsafe for at least one testing day.

Environment America recommends increased federal oversight that can provide same-day testing and post water quality warnings when appropriate, as well as bring older sewage systems up to date.

Naturally, not everyone agrees with the report’s conclusions. Officials in Maine, for example, which had water quality issues at roughly half of 85 sampled sites, responded to the findings by saying 93 percent of their samples collected in 2018 were below the approved threshold for safe recreation and that 97.2 percent of beach days were free from any contamination advisories or closures. Maine and other states often have a higher threshold for bacteria before waters are deemed unsafe. In Maine’s case, it’s 104 colony-forming units (CFUs) of enterococcus bacteria per 100 milliliters of water, higher than the blanket 60 CFUs of the Beach Action Value. There’s not necessarily a “wrong” number, as the EPA approves of both. Maine officials also argued that tested sites would have higher numbers shortly after heavy precipitation.

Anyone concerned about swimming in public beaches should be aware of recent rainfall that could lead to increased urban runoff, which could result in more bacteria in the water. Swimmers should also avoid swallowing water, and make a habit of showering after going to the beach.

[h/t Forbes]

Eco-Friendly, Reusable Deodorant Containers Are Good for the Earth and Your Pits


A fair amount of plastic goes into keeping your armpits smelling fresh. Few of us recycle our empty deodorant tube after swiping on that last layer, after all. In many cases, it’s not even clear if you can, though there are a few special recycling programs that make it possible. But one company aims to make it easier to both smell clean and keep the planet clean.

Myro deodorant comes in refillable, reusable packaging, as Design Milk reports. The essential-oil-based deodorant comes in pods that you can pop into colorful reusable canisters. Created by the award-winning industrial designers at the New York studio Visibility, the fashionable containers are also made with 50 percent less plastic than most drugstore deodorant sticks, according to the company.

The deodorant sticks aren’t fundamentally different than something you might pick up at the drug store, even if they would look more at home on the shelves at Urban Outfitters or Anthropologie than CVS. You use a dial at the bottom of the tube to advance the deodorant stick, and when you reach the end of the deodorant, the pod that held the formula pops out. You can then refill it with one of Myro’s replacement pods. If your container needs a deep clean, you can stick it in the top rack of your dishwasher.

A red-orange deodorant canister next to a Myro refill pod

The deodorant itself doesn’t use the standard aluminum or baking powder formula, instead employing an antimicrobial agent made from sugar to reduce smells and barley powder to absorb moisture.

Myro deodorant comes in five different scents that you can mix and match with five different packaging colors. There’s Solar Flare, a mix of orange, juniper, and sunflower; Big Dipper, a blend of bergamot, lavender, and vetiver; Cabin No. 5, which smells like vetiver, patchouli, and geranium; Pillow Talk, made with violet leaf, ylang ylang, wild amyris; and Chill Wave, a blend of cucumber, jasmine, and spearmint.

One Myro deodorant, including the refillable container, costs $10 and can either be bought one at a time or through a subscription that ships refills every three, four, or six months. The refills can also be purchased one at a time. Customers that subscribe will receive free shipping, while one-time purchases will include a $5 shipping fee. You can pause your subscription or switch scents at any time.

Check it out here.

[h/t Design Milk]

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These Grass Straws Are an Eco-Friendly Alternative to Plastic


We know plastic straws have created an incredibly serious environmental issue, and while many alternatives have been introduced, there are definitely some drawbacks to each of them. Paper straws, for example, tend to dissolve faster than you can finish your beverage. Some companies have tried to get around the issues paper and plastic straws present by introducing a special lid to sip cold beverages through. But they’re still made out of, well, plastic.

A Kickstarter campaign is offering a solution by producing sturdy grass straws that work perfectly in hot or cold drinks and decompose in just 15 days. With $3606 raised, the startup La Couleur Monochrome is still working toward a $27,877 goal, but you can back this project until January 31. For as little as $6, you can receive 100 straws in a reusable, eco-friendly zip-up bag, and the more expensive tiers offer bigger rewards.

The straws are made from hollow-stemmed grass that is grown and hand-harvested in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam. After the grass is harvested, it is cut into 20-centimeter pieces and disinfected through a boiling process, rather than with harsh chemicals. Buyers have the option of selecting either dried-out straws, which can last for up to one year when stored at room temperature, or fresh straws, which can remain in the fridge for up to six weeks. According to the startup, both straws are suited for hot and cold drinks, but when using the fresh straws, you’ll get “a slight scent of fresh cut grass without changing the drink's taste.”

Grass straws

If you’re worried about the environmental impact of harvesting the field, there’s no need. According to the campaign, the grass regenerates itself within a year. Currently, the startup is producing 1 million straws a month, but they hope to up it to 10 million by July 2020. Also beginning in July, the company plans to only send out orders once a month to create a more sustainable shipping program.

With so many large-scale changes that need to happen to help the environment, starting with a simple straw may seem inconsequential, but it’s not. Estimates have put the number of straws littering the world's coastlines at anywhere from 437 million to 8.3 billion.

If you want to visualize how much plastic humans have produced, it's equivalent to 25,000 Empire State Buildings or 80 million blue whales. And of all that plastic, only 9 percent has been recycled. At this pace, some have predicted that the amount of plastic in the ocean may outweigh the ocean's fish by 2050.

Cutting out straws is a great way to start reducing single-use products in your everyday life, and you can head here to find out more about the Kickstarter.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don't return, so we're only happy if you're happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!