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Pollution Warning Sounded

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The group overseeing the cleanup of Santa Monica Bay underscored its concern about possible health hazards this week by advising that swimmers stay at least 100 yards away from storm drain outlets.

The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project has previously expressed concern about the urban runoff carried into the bay by about 60 storm drains. Signs were posted in July warning swimmers to stay out of water from storm sewers--which can contain oil, grease, pesticides, pet droppings and other contaminants--and also to avoid ocean water near the mouth of drains.

But until this week the Restoration Project had not taken a position on how far away from storm drains bathers should stay.

Despite the Restoration Project’s new alert, Los Angeles County health officials said they do not plan to post additional warnings for swimmers.

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A Santa Monica drain that has the worst pollution is already marked with warning signs, said Jack Petralia, the county’s director of environmental protection. And routine testing shows that the ocean near other storm drains is usually within the bathing water standards established by the state, he said.

But Mark Gold, staff scientist with the environmental group Heal the Bay, said recent research focusing on the Santa Monica drain sparked the suggestion that the public should stay at least 100 yards away from all storm drains.

The research, which Gold directed, found high concentrations of bacterial pollution 100 yards from the Santa Monica drain, located at the base of Pico Boulevard. Presence of these bacteria indicate that disease-causing organisms may be in the water, Gold said.

Although the Pico drain is worse than others, Gold said the tests showed that contaminants are not dispersed as readily in the surf as previously had been assumed. That finding can be applied to all storm drains, he said.

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“The bottom line is, if you see a storm drain flowing, don’t go in the water within 100 yards of it,” Gold said.

Another portion of the research confirmed the presence of potentially harmful microorganisms. This additional research revealed the presence in the water of human viruses, which proved the runoff was contaminated with human waste, Gold said.

The discovery of viral contamination was particularly disturbing because officials thought they had eliminated sewage from the storm drain last year after a leaking Santa Monica sewer line was repaired. The source of the sewage found in the latest sampling at the Pico drain is unknown.

Research has shown that swimming in water contaminated with sewage can cause illnesses, particularly diarrhea.

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Although the Pico drain is considered the most polluted one that empties into the bay, Gold said it would still be wise to err on the side of caution and recommended that swimmers keep at least 100 yards away from other storm drains.


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