WASHINGTON - Hot weather means it's time to head to the beach, right?
That depends, since many beaches can be contaminated by human and animal waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The council's annual beach report gives ratings to 200 popular beaches around the country centered around water quality. The survey awards ratings based on violation rates, as well as safety and testing practices, and uses criteria including how soon the public is notified of high bacteria levels.
Among the group's "five-star" beaches: Dewey Beach and Rehoboth Beach in Delaware and Ocean City at Beach 6 in Maryland. Beach 6 is in north Ocean City.
Overall, the group says water quality at the nation's beaches is not getting worse, but it's also not getting better, USA TODAY reports.
The number of beach closing and advisory days in 2012 was down 14 percent from 2011 but exceeded 20,000 for the eighth time in the last nine years. The council says stormwater pollution was identified as the largest known contributor to beach closings and health advisory days last year.
The report also ranks Delaware No. 1 for beach water quality, based on the percentage of samples exceeding national recommended health standards for designated beach areas. Virginia ranked sixth and Maryland 11th.
Beachgoers can check water-quality information by plugging ZIP codes into this map from the NRDC.