Have fun at the beach this July 4th weekend. But watch out for dirty, disease-causing water.

That cheery advice comes from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which says that “our nation’s beaches continue to suffer from bacterial pollution that puts swimmers at risk.”

The environmental group, in its annual report on beach water quality, said 2010 was the second-worst year for U.S. beach closings and health warnings since it began keeping track 21 years ago. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and heavy rains that swept pollutants into the oceans contributed to a 29 percent jump in closures and health warnings in 2010 from the year before.

“The problems that we have in this country with beach water contamination in general are not getting better,” a lawyer for the NRDC told the Times.

The NRDC says the litany of potential consequences for swimmers includes stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments and neurological disorders, along with ear, nose and throat and other heath problems. Two key tips for swimmers: Hold off on visiting the beach after a rainstorm, and be sure to check a beach’s water quality reports.

In its rating of beaches, the NRDC awarded “superstar beach” status to two beaches in Delaware, one in Minnesota and another in New Hampshire.

STUART SILVERSTEIN

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