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Beach closings increased last year

The number of beach closings in Florida because of pollution increased last year, but one reason was better monitoring of water quality, a national environmental group said Wednesday.

There was also more rain last year than in 2000, which probably contributed to a 30 percent increase in the number of beach closings and health advisories, the Natural Resources Defense Council said in its annual beach report. It said there were 686 beach closings or advisories in Florida last year, up from 527 in 2000.

The group also named its "beach bums": 70 beaches around the nation, including 40 in Florida, that lack regular monitoring for pollution such as sewage and stormwater runoff, have no programs for notifying swimmers of such dangers and have known pollution near the beach.

Most of the Florida "beach bums" are in Brevard County. The head of the Health Department there said he had no idea why the group was rating its beaches so poorly.

"We have 10 sites here that our people do sampling every other week, and all the reports came back as good," said Brevard Health Director Heidar Heshmati. "These people that released this information did not consult with us, did not have any input from what we are doing here. . . . How they got that, I don't know."

The group said several Atlantic and Intracoastal Waterway beaches in the county had pollution problems, most from sewer system overflows.

The group congratulated Key West for cleaning up its beaches and coastal waters. The city was named a "beach buddy" for spending $67-million to modernize its wastewater treatment. The city stopped dumping sewage 13 miles offshore last year.

Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley said the beach improvement happened after residents approved a $23-million bond issue to pay for it.

Before the change, signs often were placed by Key West beaches warning swimmers that going in the water might not be safe.

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