Beach umbrella impalements spur Sen. Menendez to call for action

Wind can turn the sunshades into “projectile spears,” U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez said. He wants a federal agency to issue safety guidelines.

Beverly Jaker of Woodbridge (right) and her sister, Marilyn, lounge under beach umbrellas in Manasquan on July 29, 2019. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Beverly Jaker of Woodbridge (right) and her sister, Marilyn, lounge under beach umbrellas in Manasquan on July 29, 2019. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Beach umbrellas were the subject of some mirth last week when comedian Lewis Black, appearing on The Daily Show, said a video of them tumbling down a windy beach in Maryland was proof of an “umbrella uprising.”

But U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey said Monday it’s no laughing matter: An average of about 300 people nationwide go to emergency rooms each year with injuries from beach umbrellas.

That included a British tourist impaled through the ankle in Seaside Heights last year and a Virginia woman who died after she was struck in the chest in 2016.

“It’s a real public health hazard every time a powerful gust of wind tears a beach umbrella right out of the sand and turns it into a projectile spear,” he said, adding later: “The only things that should be flying around through the air on a sunny day at the Shore should be seagulls and Frisbees.”

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U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez holds a press conference on the beach at Manasquan to highlight the dangers of windblown beach umbrellas. Menendez called for stricter regulations and a public education campaign. (Nicholas Pugliese/WHYY)

Menendez, a Democrat, visited the beach in Manasquan on Monday to call for more aggressive action on umbrella safety from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the source of the statistic on emergency room visits.

He said the commission has overseen public education campaigns in the past that were successful in changing people’s behaviors, like a 2015 “Anchor It!” campaign to prevent furniture tip-overs.

They should do the same for beach umbrellas, he said, and maybe even set safety standards for the product.

“If the Consumer Protection Safety Commission can provide guidance on how to properly secure furniture, surely they can determine what makes for a better, safer beach umbrella,” he said.

So far, however, the commission has declined to take action. In response to a May 2 letter from Menendez and three other Democratic senators, the commission’s acting chairman wrote that staff there did not think a safety standard would have a “substantial effect” on reducing injuries.

Ann Marie Buerkle, the acting chairman, said the commission could develop an information sheet on proper set-up, staking and anchoring of beach umbrellas “but it may be difficult to provide specific recommendations as beach conditions can vary widely.”

Manasquan Chief Lifeguard Doug Anderson, appearing alongside Menendez, offered this advice: “Instead of just stabbing the umbrella down, you need to work it back and forth, and that’ll help sink the umbrella down.”

Umbrellas with corkscrew tips can also be effective, he said. Menendez mentioned weighted bases for the umbrellas as a potential solution.

Beachgoers in Manasquan on Monday said runaway beach umbrellas were probably not the most pressing issue facing Congress, but many had first-hand experience with the phenomenon.

Alyssa DiMare, a 20 year old from Staten Island, says she was trying to take a nap on the beach one day when the wind carried a loose umbrella right at her.

“I ducked and it went flying over me,” she said.

She says the umbrellas are like summer’s tumbleweeds.

“It’s scary. You’re like, oh my gosh, no one’s really paying attention and then it’s like, next thing you know you could get hit by an umbrella,” she said.

DiMare said a public education campaign is a good idea.

“I feel like a lot of people don’t know how to place the umbrella in the sand and people should learn that,” she said.

If the Consumer Protection Safety Commission doesn’t take action, Menendez said, he’s open to forcing its hand through legislation.

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