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USA Today yanks controversial chart of ‘dirtiest beaches’ to check its facts

This story has been updated with the response from a local blogger who published the findings after the study was retracted. 

USA Today ran an article Tuesday with a chart created by environmental activists purporting to list America’s dirtiest beaches by state, with Horry County leading South Carolina in the number of days they considered too polluted for swimming.

The problem with this report — and there are several — the newspaper didn’t bother to do any fact checking before deciding to publish it.

Not only has USA Today since pulled the study’s chart, but the environmental groups are also reviewing their work after the fact for accuracy.

An editor’s note at the top of the USA Today story now states:

Environment America, which produced the study noted in this story, said Thursday it is investigating questions about the accuracy of its data. Until the group releases any revisions, we have deleted a chart listing dirty beaches by state that accompanied this story. USA TODAY also is conducting its own review. We will update our reporting once the reviews are complete.

Meanwhile, the damage to the reputation of inland and coastal beaches across the nation is already done.

USA Today’s own reputation is also on the line for printing, without question, a chart created by activists who have $30 million in assets from undisclosed sources, and a political agenda to ban oil and gas development, block economic growth, and lobby against livestock farmers.

The information provided by USA Today’s original article prompted news outlets across the country to run with their own stories on dirtiest beaches in their respective states.

Local blogger David Hucks ran with his version of the story on Friday, a full day after USA Today retracted the chart.

In a statement to the Myrtle Beach Post, Hucks defended his decision to write a story based on the USA Today chart, without informing readers the chart had since been retracted.

We maintian Hucks had a responsibility to inform his readers the chart had been retracted, and the study was under review for accuracy.

We don’t dispute the swashes can increase bacteria levels after heavy rainfalls at the outfalls. That’s common knowledge.

The point of this article — a major national newspaper published a study by questionable groups without properly fact checking it, then was forced to retract it after the damage had been done to the reputation of beaches across the nation.

Environment America says the study was conducted by their think tank, Frontier Group, which “investigate issues that highlight the problems of abundance.”

To sum it up, their goal is to reeducate Americans that economic growth is bad for the environment and our happiness, and that our lives won’t be meaningful until all of our wealth is redistributed.  

From their website:

An underlying assumption of the national conversation about economic problems and political alienation is that if only America could create more jobs, and people could produce, or acquire, more goods, our quality of life would improve and many of our woes would disappear.

That assumption is wrong. The quest to keep making more things in the same old ways has left us with ecological and social challenges that undermine the vast potential of our society. And with respect to distribution, such a wealthy nation clearly has enough food, homes, and “stuff” for everyone, if we chose to distribute what we have more evenly.

Our quality of life will only improve when we accept that economic growth doesn’t automatically deliver happiness, and begin to make decisions, both in and beyond the economic realm, to support meaningful lives.

The study’s unproven problem with Horry County’s beaches is based on the number of days in only one specific year — 2018 — that tested “potentially” unsafe due to high bacteria levels.

Horry County doesn’t have industries dumping waste in the ocean, farm pastures along the coastline, or open sewage lines to the water. 

Our widely known problem is with stormwater runoff after heavy rainfalls that flows out of the swashes and into the ocean.

The study was based on raw data from one year that completely failed to consider our local conditions — an unusually wet year combined with a record rain-producing hurricane that sent a cascade of floodwater through the swashes, and from North Carolina through South Carolina’s rivers which dump right along our coastline.

It would not be surprising if 2018 saw high bacteria counts and repeated testing days in this atypical year, yet that is hardly worthy of a “dirtiest beach” title.

North Myrtle Beach has already spent tens of millions of dollars to solve their problem by treating stormwater, then diverting it far offshore away from swimmers.

Yet the so-called study does not suggest treatment of stormwater runoff as a solution. 

The environmentalists say we just need to eliminate stormwater runoff altogether by spending huge sums of tax dollars on rain barrels, garden rooftops, creating more green space, and replacing all our roads and sidewalks with permeable pavement.

We’re not thumbing our noses at green infrastructure, we just think redeveloping the entire Grand Strand with mosquito-breeding barrels is not a realistic solution.