Pathogens pose risk at 18 Oregon beaches

Media Contacts

Water pollution persists as Congress considers infrastructure funding

Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center

PORTLAND – With Oregonians returning to local beaches this summer, a new report warns that more work is needed to ensure that all waters are safe for swimming. In 2020, 18 Oregon beaches were potentially unsafe for swimming on at least one day, according to Safe for Swimming? – Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center’s annual analysis of bacteria testing. The report comes as Congress considers investments in water infrastructure.

“Even as Oregonians are back to enjoying the fresh sea breeze and splash of waves at the beach, pollution is still plaguing too many of the places where we swim,” said Celeste Meiffren-Swango, state director with Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center. “Now is the time to fix our water infrastructure and stop the flow of pathogens to our beaches.”

To assess beach safety, the group examined whether fecal indicator bacteria levels exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most protective “Beach Action Value,” which is associated with an estimated illness rate of 32 out of every 1,000 swimmers. Nye Beach had bacteria levels above this safety threshold on 90 percent of days tested last year.

Other Oregon beaches found potentially unsafe for swimming at least once in 2020 were Seal Rock State Recreation Site, Sunset Bay State Park, Bastendorf Beach, Harris Beach State Park, Rockaway Beach, Tolovana Beach State Wayside, Hubbard Creek Beach at Humbug Mountain State Park, Cannon Beach, Mill Beach and Neskowin Beach State Wayside.  

Polluted runoff and sewage overflows are common sources of contamination that can put swimmers’ health at risk and lead authorities to close beaches or issue health advisories. Scientists estimate 57 million instances of people getting sick each year in the U.S. from swimming in oceans, lakes, rivers and ponds. This includes cases of acute gastrointestinal illness.

The report recommends major investments to prevent sewage overflows and runoff pollution.  

Three weeks ago, the U.S. House infrastructure committee approved the Water Quality Protection Act, which authorizes urgently needed funding to stop sewage overflows, with 15 percent of those funds dedicated to green projects – including nature-based solutions that prevent runoff pollution from flowing into our rivers, lakes, and streams.  

“Kudos to Chairman DeFazio for leading the charge on this bipartisan bill,” said Meiffren-Swango. “We need to make our beaches safe for swimming by boldly investing in clean water infrastructure.” 


Environment Oregon Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment.