Beaufort County had neither the dirtiest nor cleanest beach waters in the state last year, according to a report issued Wednesday by a national environmental group.
Pollution problems in hotel-swamped Myrtle Beach largely are responsible for South Carolina's ranking as only the 9th best state in the Natural Resources Defense Council's 21st annual "Testing the Water" report.
That's the Grand Strand -- a top destination for Fourth of July vacationers, according to AAA among other groups, where millions will jam into the surf this weekend.
Of the state's 63 beaches, 23 are tested on a regular basis for water quality. Five percent of those samples exceeded South Carolina's daily maximum bacterial and pollutant standards in 2010.
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All of the beaches tested in Beaufort County fell below the state's 5 percent average.
Locally, 3 percent of water samples taken last year at Harbor Island were contaminated.
Only two percent of the samples from Hilton Head and Hunting islands exceeded state standards.
No samples taken at Fripp Island were contaminated, according to the report.
Other beaches in the area were not monitored, the report said.
Water quality concerns did not prompt beach closures or advisories in Beaufort County last year, the report said.
Among Charleston County beaches, only Sullivan's Island showed any sign of trouble in 2010, according to the report. Even on Sullivan's, bacteria levels were high in only 5 percent of tests.
The Defense Council isn't the last word on clean beaches. Two years ago, the environmental group ranked Sullivan's among the worst beaches in the state based on bad test numbers that were twice the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control numbers obtained for the report.
State officials blasted those findings, and an NRDC media relations associate said any discrepancies were caused by "questionable data."
Meanwhile, DHEC's "real time" website monitoring test sites on the beaches on Wednesday showed nothing but green-for-go from Hilton Head to Myrtle Beach.
"Absolutely, the water is safe to go in," said Adam Myrick of DHEC. "We invite anybody to take a dip."
The NRDC report ranked the state's five beachfront counties in this order:
Myrtle Beach State Park and Campgrounds had the most contaminated water among state beaches, with 15 percent of samples exceeding state standards.
The report covers more than 3,000 of the nation's beaches and rates 200 of the country's top vacation beaches on a five-star water quality scale.
In Beaufort County, Hilton Head and Fripp islands made that list, getting three stars each -- one for water quality in 2010, one for water quality during the last three years and one for posting beach information online and at the beach.
The (Charleston) Post & Courier and The (Myrtle Beach) Sun News contributed.