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The Cleanest Beaches in the U.S.

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- If you're planning to celebrate this Fourth of July on a beach, you may want to try to make your way to Delaware.

This tiny state is home to two of the cleanest beaches in the country, Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach, according to a report put out last week from the National Resources Defense Council, which analyzes government data each year to find the beaches with the least contaminated water and the best practices for notifying the public of beach-related health concerns.

A study gives the East Coast boasting rights to the cleanest U.S. beaches overall.

The two Delaware beaches were among the only four in the country to score a five-star rating in the report, along with Hampton Beach State Park in New Hampshire and the Park Point Lafayette Community Club Beach in Minnesota. For each of these, there were no water samples that exceeded federal standards for bacteria levels last year, or in each of the two years before. What's more, these beaches were found to issue health advisories quickly if necessary and to post those advisories online and at the beach to better inform the public, something the agency encourages other beaches to emulate.

According to the NRDC report, 2010 saw the second-highest number of beach closings and advisories in two decades, driven by sewage overflows, stormwater runoff and pollution from oil spills, namely the BP disaster, which hurt beaches along the Gulf Coast. Actual pollution levels remained relatively steady, however, with 8% of U.S. beach water samples showing excessive levels of bacteria compared with 7% in previous years.

Southeast, New York and New Jersey beaches proved to have the cleanest record overall, with just 4% of water samples exceeding health standards. New Hampshire, New Jersey and Delaware all ranked among the five cleanest states for beachgoers, making the East Coast as a whole a safe bet for them. On the other hand, the Great Lakes region proved to be the worst, with 15% of beach water samples showing potential contamination.

Louisiana, the state most directly affected by the oil spill, that proved to be home to the dirtiest beaches, with more than a third of water samples (37%) exceeding federal health standards. Its neighbor, Mississippi, was found to have some of the dirtiest individual beaches, including Edgewater Beach and Courthouse Road Beach, each of which had strikingly high amounts of water samples with bacteria and had to be closed at some point in 2010 due to the spill. To make matters worse, the report found that these beaches failed to issue prompt advisories to the public despite the clear need.

With any luck, these two states and their beaches will be better off this year provided no new oil spills occur, but the same can't necessarily be said for beaches such as Avalon in California, South Shore Beach in Milwaukee and Villa Angela State Park in Ohio, each of which made NRDC's list of repeat offenders for consistently having contamination problems between 2006 and last year. If you're planning to visit any of these beaches this summer, you may want to double check for advisories before going in the water.

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