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Contamination Closes More Beach

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Another section of Huntington State Beach was closed Thursday by Orange County health officials after testing revealed the presence of unhealthy bacteria levels, the source of which continues to be a mystery.

Officials closed an additional 1,000 feet of the state beach, then added a 1,000-foot “buffer zone” that included portions of the city beach. Now no water access is allowed between Brookhurst Street and Beach Boulevard, said Larry Honeybourne, head of water quality at the Orange County Health Care Agency.

Last week, total bacteria tested at almost 200 times their normal level, while another form of bacteria tested at 20 times their normal level at the center of the contaminated area at Huntington State Beach.

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In the newly closed area at the edge of the contamination zone, bacteria have tested at almost five times the normal level, Honeybourne said, adding that the situation was particularly disturbing.

“It’s alarming because it’s a violation of the health standards in an area where there is no urban runoff,” Honeybourne said. “It’s very unfortunate it happens in the summer. It’s the loss of a heavily used stretch of beach, but we’re trying to make sure people don’t get sick.”

People exposed to the contaminated water run the risk of gastrointestinal diseases and sinus, eye, ear and nose infections, he said.

Since July 1, health officials have been closing 250 feet of beach on average a day while hunting for the cause of contamination, a search that so far has cost the Orange County Sanitation District $250,000, and has involved the state, a county agency, the sanitation district, two private companies, and the city of Huntington Beach.

A sewer leak is believed to have caused the elevated levels, said Honeybourne. But despite using video cameras to snake up sewage pipes in an effort to locate the problem, the source remains unknown.

On Thursday, sanitation officials were down to testing the last piece of unexamined sewage line in the area.

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“This is the last known,” said Honeybourne. “I’m not sure where we’ll go from there.”

The county Sanitation Department is hoping to determine the cause of the leak by sending a robot with a video camera into a section of the sewage line 40 feet underneath the state beach parking lot Friday, but initial tests of the U-shaped steel-reinforced concrete pipe have been discouraging, said Michelle Tuchman, a spokeswoman for the department.

The futile search has been “frustrating and baffling,” she said.

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More Beach Closed

The Orange County Health Care Agency late Wednesday extended its closure of beaches to include a small portion of Huntington City Beach. The closures, because of high bacteria counts, began with portions of Huntington State Beach on July 1.

Sources: Orange County Sanitation District; City of Huntington Beach

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