Do you remember looking forward to trips to the beach as a child: the anticipation of splashing in the salty water, building sand castles, and running up and down the shoreline?

Unfortunately, the sandy shores that you remember from your childhood may now be a contaminated hotspot. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) states that beach pollution is more widespread than it has been in nearly 20 years, with up to 7 million Americans annually getting sick from drinking or swimming in contaminated water.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the most common illness associated with exposure is gastroenteritis (nausea, vomiting, headache, diarrhea, and fever), but ear, nose, and throat infections can also occur. In rare cases, swimmers can even be exposed to more dangerous diseases such as hepatitis, cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever.

Each year, the NRDC compiles a list of the cleanest and most contaminated beaches, largely based on the percentage of monitoring samples that violated public health standards during the previous year's beach season. So before you dive into the ocean, make sure that your favorite sandy spot isn't one of these beach bummers.

1. (tie)Hacks Point: Cecil County, Maryland

This beach, located on the Chesapeake Bay, had bacterial contamination levels that exceeded public health standards 60 percent of the time. (By comparison, the beaches that scored well on the NRDC list, had as little as 3 percent of their samples exceed national standards. One beach didn't have any samples go above the standard level.) A rural area, Cecil County receives pollution mainly through the four major rivers that drain into the upper Chesapeake Bay and from storm water runoff. According to the NRDC, Cecil County is unsure of the exact source of contamination at its beaches and is not actively taking steps to prevent the problem.

1. (tie) Beachwood Beach West: Ocean County, New Jersey

Located in the town of Beachwood, this local beach ties with Hacks Point for the number one spot, with 60 percent of samples taken exceeding public health standards. The storm water discharge it receives from an aging storm drain and a major state roadway contributes to pollution levels. Unfortunately, local efforts to protect the beach-including police-enforced 'poop-scoop' ordinances, vacuuming storm drains to decrease overflows, and scaring off waterfowl during the feeding and nesting periods-haven't been enough to move this beach off the list.

3. Venice State Beach: San Mateo County, California

Despite making this list and holding the title of most polluted beach in California, Venice Beach remains a popular destination for both tourists and locals. It attracts visitors who engage in a range of activities, including surfing, fishing, swimming, and even weight lifting. However, a whopping 57 percent of water samples exceeded bacteria standards. Perhaps Venice Beach can take a few pointers from officials at North Beach in Racine, Wisconsin. North Beach was successful in naturally cleaning up pollution by building wetlands and installing dunes. It also added more trash cans on the beach.

4. Bay Country Campground and Beach: Kent County, Maryland

Another Chesapeake Bay hotspot, this private beach, located on the Eastern Shore, is just one of the Bay Country Campground attractions. But the campers that flock to enjoy fishing, hiking, swimming, and whitewater rafting should proceed with caution, as water samples from this beach exceeded bacterial standards 56 percent of the time.

5. Jackson Park Beach: Cook County, Illinois

Home to the 63rd Street Bathing Pavilion, a Chicago landmark, the building in Jackson Park reflects the beach's popularity for swimming and sunbathing. The first World's Fair was held here and it remains a top spot for beach-goers, despite ongoing contamination problems. And although the Chicago Park District attempts to combat the pollution by cleaning the beaches daily during the beach season, 54 percent of water samples taken still exceed national standards.

6. Avalon Beach: Los Angeles County, California

Located on Catalina Island, this popular LA beach isn't exactly helping California's reputation for less than cleanly beaches. Despite Avalon City's efforts (including diversion devices to prevent storm water from entering the bay in the summer and bird exclusion wires to keep birds form perching) to reduce pollution in this popular tourist area, 53 percent of samples taken at Avalon Beach exceeded standards for bacterial contamination, the exact sources of which are unknown.