During the summer months, many Los Angeles County residents and visitors enjoy the natural beauty and recreational benefits of our beaches. Before they take that first swim though, they may be wondering if the ocean water is safe, what beach advisories mean, and what they can do to keep our beaches clean.
The vast majority of beach water along the coast of LA County meets State ocean water quality standards, which means it is safe for swimming, surfing, or otherwise playing in the waves, said Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, Director of Public Health and Health Officer. We encourage residents and visitors to keep our beaches healthy and clean by remembering that whatever is discharged into the street or on the ground flows to a storm drain and eventually makes it way into the ocean. People can help prevent ocean pollution by properly disposing of animal waste, pesticides, households paints, chemicals and motor oil, using a broom and dustpan instead of a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks, and by participating in beach clean-up days.
How do you test beach water?
Los Angeles County’s Ocean Water Monitoring Program tests dozens of sampling sites from the Ventura/Los Angeles County border to San Pedro. These sites are tested at least once a week. Samples are also collected at Avalon Beach on Santa Catalina Island from April through October. If beaches are found to have bacteria levels that exceed State health standards, then they are tested more often.
What do warning signs or rain advisories mean?
When bacteria levels exceed State ocean water quality standards, warning signs are posted to let swimmers, surfers, and other beach-goers know that the water in a specific area is unhealthy.
The signs will remain in place until tests indicate that bacteria levels meet State standards. Some areas have permanent signs posted due to historically poor water quality.
A rain advisory is issued anytime there is significant rainfall that may cause bacterial levels to exceed State standards in ocean waters. The advisory stays in effect for 72 hours after rainfall has ended.
On rare occasions, sewage from ruptured sewage lines inland can make its way into the ocean. When this occurs, the affected beach area and water is immediately closed off so swimmers, surfers, and other beach-goers will be protected.
The area will re-open once testing confirms that bacteria levels are again within State standards.
What areas of the beach should I avoid?
It is best to avoid water contact in areas adjacent to or in front of discharging storm drains. Storm drains direct runoff from urban areas to the ocean. While they do not normally contain sewage, water in storm drains can contain disease-causing bacteria. Depending on the amount of flow, the discharging storm drains can affect ocean water quality several hundred yards from the discharge point. Much greater areas may be affected following major rainstorms.
Avoid swimming next to piers. Piers attract birds which may contribute to higher bacterial levels. In addition, plumbing under piers may occasionally be in disrepair and may discharge sewage into the water.
If a beach area is posted with warning signs or is closed, avoid contact with the water in that area. If you have any questions about where it is safe to swim, ask a lifeguard.
How do I find the cleanest beaches in LA County?
Visit our website at www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/beach to see beach grades from A – F. Or call the Public Health Beach Closure and Advisory Hotline at (800) 525-5662 for the latest information on ocean water quality conditions.
A word about sun safety:
Before you take that refreshing dip in the ocean, take a moment to protect your skin, said Dr. Fielding. Skin cancer is still the most common form of cancer diagnosed in the United States, so it is important for men, women, and children to protect themselves by applying a sunscreen with a minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15, avoiding tanning and tanning beds, and staying in the shade as much as possible.
Use a beach umbrella or other covering to stay in the shade as much as possible.
Avoid sunburn by applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day may reduce one’s risk if used properly. Make sure to thoroughly reapply sunscreen after water activities, such as swimming, surfing, or otherwise playing in the waves. Sunscreen should also be reapplied often, even if you are not spending time in the water.
Cover up with long sleeves and pants, and wear a wide-brimmed hat to further avoid sunburn.
Wear UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes.
Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths. Try a sunless tanner instead.
Infants under the age of six months should be kept out of the sun. Sunscreen should be used on babies over the age of six months, and their exposure to sun should be limited as much as possible.
For more information on sun safety, check the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website at http://www.skincancer.org