The National Resources Defense Counsel's annual beaches report is in, and syringes aside, New York beaches actually fared pretty well. None of the samples taken at Jones Beach, Long Beach, or the Rockaways exceeded the state's standards for water pollution, and very few did at Coney Island. The beaches with the most violations were the Douglaston Homeowners Association in Queens County, Krull Park in Niagara County, Woodlawn Beach State Park in Erie County and Shore Acres Club in Westchester County.
The NRDC has a five-star rating system with criteria that involves how long the beach went without violations, how often the beaches are sampled, how beachgoers are notified of closings, etc. No NYC beaches even made a four stars, but 7th Avenue Beach in Belmar, New Jersey made four stars. But uh, WOOOO ROCKAWAY TACO!
There were more beach closings in 2011 than in 2010, but that was mostly due to Hurricane Irene. The #1 reason for closings or advisory days was stormwater runoff. You might know that more than 30 billion gallons of untreated sewage enters the city's waterways every year, mostly due to heavy rain. But were you aware that there are also giant, Cast Away rafts made of tampons, floss and feces that helicopters have to find? Whatta town!
Combined Sewer Overflows discharged from New York City contain not only fecal material and other pollutants, but floating debris made up of street litter and toilet waste such as hygiene products. When discharged to the New York/New Jersey Harbor Complex, the floating debris tends to collect into slicks that can wash up on beaches. The multi-agency Floatables Action Plan employs several means of controlling floating debris, such as helicopter surveillance to locate slicks, catch basins to reduce the discharge of street litter to sewers, increased street cleaning in some neighborhoods, skimmer vessels fitted with nets that collect floating debris, floating booms that trap debris near sewer-system discharge points for later collection, and sewer-system improvements intended to maximize the ability to retain floating debris.
The good news is that the $3.8 billion deal between the city and the DEC announced in March will remove 1.5 billion gallons of that stuff every year until 2030. You can check out the NDRC's full report and see an interactive map of the regions beaches with their results here.