LA County beaches most polluted in state

Los Angeles County beaches were deemed the most polluted in California by Heal the Bay’s 19th Annual Beach Report Card last week. Six out of the 10 beaches on the list ““ including Santa Monica Municipal Pier and Surfrider Beach at Malibu Creek ““ are located in L.A. County.

Mike Grimmer, an environmental data analyst at the nonprofit organization Heal the Bay, said this report, although seemingly bleak, does not mean beachgoers cannot enjoy their summer in the water. As long as precautions are taken, going for a swim will likely be safe.

Waterborne pathogenic diseases including ear infection, stomach flu, upper respiratory infection or major skin rash can result from exposure to pollutants, the report said.

“Frequency definitely increases the risks, but as long as beachgoers stay away from creeks, storm-drain flows, and lagoons, there is a 98 percent chance the water quality will be good,” Grimmer said.

Heal the Bay, which is dedicated to keeping beaches in Southern California clean and safe, has been monitoring the water quality since 1990.

The organization started with an annual review of beaches in Santa Monica Bay and evolved into a program that grades more than 500 California locations for summer dry weather and 324 locations year-round.

UC Davis oceanography Professor John Largier said more beaches are tested in Southern California than anywhere else in the state because its warmer weather attracts more visitors.

Population density contributes greatly to the amount of pollution.

The state budget was previously paying for the water-quality tests, but when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut all of the funding for the collection and processing of water samples, California counties were forced to find funding elsewhere, according to the report card.

L.A. County was able to find sponsors, but beaches in counties without sufficient funding were given “incomplete” grades by Heal the Bay, the report stated.

“The reports can be misleading since some counties were unable to pay for consistent testing,” Grimmer said.

For the first time this year, L.A. County took ocean-water samples directly from flowing storm drains and creeks. The largest source of pollution results from kids playing in front of these storm drains and fecal contamination from mammals and birds, Grimmer said.

“By sampling here, the tests are more accurate, but the grades came back really low,” Grimmer said.

Langier said that a lot of pollutants leak from pipes.

“Cleaning these gutters in the summer significantly lowers winter pollution and decreases the health risks for beachgoers,” Langier said.

Heal the Bay’s grading system, which is based on a 100-point scale, determines the water quality by counting the number of bacterial colonies that have grown on a water sample during a 24-hour period.

“Depending on the severity of the bacterial count, points are subtracted and a letter grade given based on the health risks to beachgoers,” Grimmer said.

Although 64 percent of sampling locations received poor grades, according to the report, Grimmer said that if people “take precautions and scrub their body with soap and water after a beach visit involving ocean contact, they should be fine.”

Becky Miller, a third-year student who volunteers at Heal the Bay’s community beach clean-up program, Nothin’ But Sand, said the program made it easy to clean the beach.

Miller, who is the incoming co-chair for the student group E3 ““ Ecology, Economy, Equity ““ said the clean-up events take place on the third Saturday of each month. She encouraged students to help out because “it only takes two hours, and then you can hang out on the beach afterward.”

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