Before you take that plane, train, or car ride this summer to the seaside, you may want to make sure the beach you are planning to visit is clean.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council's annual beach quality report, some of the country's most popular beaches are contaminated by storm water runoff and sewage that could cause stomach flu, skin rashes, pink eye, ear nose and throat problems,

The NRDC, in Testing the Waters: A Guide to Water Quality at Vacation Beaches, looks at 2011 data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from test results taken at more than 3,000 beaches nationwide and examines pollution factors, water testing practices and public notification systems.

The biggest reason for pollution is sewer runoff that “can be laden with bacteria from animal and human waste,” noted NRDC Water Program Director Steve Fleischili, who along with Jon Devine, the group’s senior attorney, gave the report. As a result America’s beaches had the third-highest number of closings or advisories in the report’s 22-year-history.

“Our beaches are plagued by a sobering legacy of water pollution,” said Devine. “Luckily, today more than ever, we know that much of this filth is preventable and we can turn the tide against water pollution. By establishing better beachwater quality standards and putting untapped 21st century solutions in place – we can make a day at the beach as carefree as it should be, and safeguard America’s vital tourism economies.”

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The report’s findings shouldn't keep all beach lovers away.  The NRDC includes a guide that ranks 200 popular vacation beaches on a scale of one to five.  Those that exceed the standards get 5 stars.

The NRDC also created a list of the top 12 cleanest beaches and the top 15 repeat offenders, along with an interactive map of 3,000 other beaches in the nation, that can be searched by zip code.

Some of the dirtiest

Some of the top offenders in NRDC’s 2012 report are popular beaches in tourist areas such as California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey,  and they “violate public standards for health,” upwards of 25 percent of the time, Devine explained. The list is as follows:

--Avalon Beach in Los Angeles County, Calif.

--Doheny State Beach in Orange County, Calif.

--Winnetka Elder Park Beach in Cook County, Ill.

--North Point Marina North Beach in Lake County, Ill.

--Constance Beach, Gulf Breeze, Little Florida, Long Beach, and Rutherford beaches in Cameron County, La.

--Beachwood Beach West in Ocean County, N.J.

--Woodlawn Beach (Woodlawn Beach State Park) in Erie County, N.Y.

--Ontario Beach in Monroe County, N.Y.

--Euclid State Park and Villa Angela State Park beaches in Cuyahoga County, Ohio

--South Shore Beach in Milwaukee County, Wis.

Some of the cleanest

These are the beaches that received NRDC’s five-star rating, and violated health standards less than 5 percent of the time.

--Newport Beach, Bolsa Chica Beach, and Huntington State Beach in Orange County, Calif.

--Gulf Shores Public Beach and Gulf State Park Pavilion in Baldwin County, Ala.

--Dewey Beach in Sussex County, Del.

--Ocean City at Beach 6 in Worcester County, Md.

--Park Point Franklin Park/ 13th Street South Beach Park and Lafayette Community Club Beach in St. Louis County, Minn.

--Hampton Beach State Park and Wallis Sands Beach in Rockingham County, N.H.

--South Padre Island in Cameron County, Texas

Where do your favorite beaches stand?  

The 200 popular beaches listed were based on how much they monitor their levels of contamination, whether or not they post closings at the beach and online, what percent of their samples exceed national standards, and whether or not the closing or advisories are issued promptly, according to NRDC’s website.

Some beaches include:

--Panama City Beach, Fla.: Two stars

--South Beach, Fla.: Two stars

--Poipu, Hawaii: Four stars

--Nags Head, N.C.: Four stars

--Jones Beach, N.Y.: One and two stars (for different monitoring locations)

--San Diego, Calif.: Two to four stars

--Belmar, N.J.: Four stars

Don’t see your favorite on the list?  Check the NRDC for the more.