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Beaches scrape bottom

Published 8/8/2007 on Press-Telegram

Long Beach has 5 of the 6 most polluted beaches in L.A. County.
Although Los Angeles County beaches were cleaner last year because of minimal storm runoff, the region's shoreline was still the most polluted in the state, according to a study released Tuesday.

County beach closures or bacterial advisories dropped 6 percent in 2006, with many popular beaches falling from the worst waters list.

But several beaches in Long Beach fared poorly in the National Resources Defense Council study, including the south end of Mother's Beach, which violated state health standards 59 percent of the time – the most of any Los Angeles County beach in the study.

Five of six worst-faring beaches in Los Angeles County were in Long Beach, including three measurements at the Colorado Lagoon and a spot near the bridge at Second Street and Bayshore Drive in Belmont Shore, according to the study.

One of the worst beaches in Southern California was Avalon Beach, north of Green Pleasure Pier, on Santa Catalina Island, a so-called "beach bum" that violated state health standards for 53 percent of samples taken.

Other contenders for the state's bum beaches included the popular beach at Santa Monica Pier with 48 percent.

"The bottom line is that the beaches are still

dirty and people are at risk of getting sick when they get into the water," said Michelle Mehta, an attorney for the New York-based NRDC, which authored the report.

"But there is a wide variety of water quality – and some beaches are cleaner."

In its annual "Testing the Waters" guide, the group tallied 2,072 county beach closures or advisories for dangerous bacteria or sewage spills, the first decrease in six years.

This contrasts with beaches across the nation that experienced a record number of unhealthy days, according to the report, with double the number of no-swim days because of sewage spills.

Beach closures mean that water is dirty enough to cause gastroenteritis, dysentery, hepatitis, respiratory ailments or other serious health problems.

For the fourth year running, local beaches ranked as the most contaminated in the state, with only 1 percent considered pollution-free.

The NRDC study, based on federal Environmental Protection Agency data, documented 4,644 closing and health advisory days last year in California.

But stormwater runoff, a major source of ocean pollution, decreased in the Southland last year, leading to vast improvements at some beaches, with the worst "beach bums" of 2005 failing to make the grade.

Will Rogers State Beach at Santa Monica Canyon, once among the nation's worst by exceeding health standards 77 percent of the time, fell to 43 percent.

The fabled Rincon Beach in Santa Barbara County, which once exceeded health standards by 50 percent, dropped to 4 percent.

And once highly polluted beaches at Malibu, Topanga State, Dockweiler State and Cabrillo were no longer ranked as dishonorable mentions, surpassing healthful limits less than a third of the time.

"Right now, we've been remarking how clean the water is, with 20- to 25-foot visiblity," said Chuck Moore, a county lifeguard at Malibu.

"If Malibu Creek is closed, everything is good. But when it's open, the water is suspect."

The NRDC blamed a general rise in polluted beaches to urban sprawl and to aging or poorly designed sewage and stormwater systems.

Mehta recommended that, before going swimming, beachgoers research the best and worst beaches and to consult county Department of Health advisories.

"People should choose their beach wisely," warned Mehta, whose office is in Santa Monica, "in order to reduce the risk."

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