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May-31-2013 13:28printcomments

Heal The Bay 2013 Beach Report Card: Flunked Again

Santa Monica Non-Profit Fails Overall Water Quality Truth Test.

Aliso Creek Beach in Laguna
Aliso Creek Beach in Laguna: This federally listed 303           
Impaired Waterbody was given an A+ by Heal The Bay

(LAGUNA BEACH) - If you’re a parent and your kid brings home a straight A+ report card, you should first be worried about the “A+.”

Okay, C+ or B+ is one thing, but like the physical attributes of a woman or a man, there’s no such thing as a perfect “10” or in this case an “A+”. It’s a fantasy, an ideal, therefore intentionally unobtainable and mythological.

Beaches that receive and transport highly contaminated “Non-Point Source” drainages from surrounding and/or upstream, urbanized areas shouldn’t get ratings like A+ either by 501 c 3 non-profit Heal The Bay (HTB).

It’s disingenuous and outrageously misleading, as if a complex problem has been solved when it hasn’t. The more hazardous of these discharged contaminants are NOT the 3 bacteria tested for and analyzed in the HTB Report Card database. Most freshwater microbes in fact dissipate and die off in great numbers once they hit high salinity, adverse ionic (ocean) waters and sunlight (natural UV)

Now imagine that you do the old “voir dire” in an attempt to understand how this child went from practically flunking out a few years back to this highest (albeit fictional) of A+ academic standards. You discover that the teacher didn’t administer the tests, the other students did.

What the teacher did was collect those derivative test scores, collate them (analyze and put them in order), in other words just summed up the information provided by the students themselves.

When it comes to data, everyone knows the phrase “garbage in, garbage out.”

Considering that many of the outfall discharge areas and mixing zones graded A+ are on the dreaded federal 303 d Impaired Waterbody List, then this Report Card unravels pretty quickly. It’s fatally flawed in an inherently biased and myopic way because the tests themselves aren’t really indicative of the more dangerous aspects of water-borne pollutants.

Don’t get me wrong: Heal the Bay does a lot of great things for the environment. Their Annual Beach Report Card just isn’t one of them, and after 22 years it seems that no one calls them out on its lapses and deficiencies.

Quite to the contrary, everybody buys and drinks this outrageous kool-aid, believes this report to be the benchmark, the truth, whole truth and nothing but…except that’s false. It’s “A, B, and C” without the rest of the water quality alphabet. Yet we’ll be seeing and hearing it promulgated online, on TV and at public hearings, not to mention in visitor and tourist bureau promulgations.

The primary purpose of this column is to debunk and demythologize the repetition of that 22-year long statistical lie. The prevarication is one of omission, but its significance more than trumps the good done by such attempts. As per usual, it’s what you don’t know, what they don’t tell you that can hurt you. And what’s NOT tested for and included in the HTB Report is what can cause the most harm to riparian and aquatic species, their environs plus ultimately to humans.

It’s like all of those warm and fuzzy, post-Gulf oil spill advertisements paid for by BP®. “Y’all come on down now, hear?” Recently the Gulf fishermen have revealed that quite to contrary, both catch totals and quality are not peachy-keen, Mother Nature’s fisheries haven’t mended by any means. Which means that the Gulf waters haven’t been cleansed or returned to pre-spill, pristine conditions either.

And as BP continues to whine, piss, moan and bellyache about how much it’s spent to remediate they continue to record significant profits worldwide. Guess that’s just the price of business as usual.

Gulf Red Snapper: BP® & Tourist Bureaus are really, really wrong!

Coastal politicians especially, needing or protecting tourism in a stagnant economy, along with their sycophantic, ingratiating staffs will cite and tout it: “Mission accomplished, everyone can go back into the water, come visit us and know you’re safe,” right?

Mark Twain wrote: "Figures often beguile me, particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Benjamin Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

Right on the "Mark", Twain that is.
  Make no mistake: HTB “arranged
          those “facts” themselves.

Those with either unformed (children), waning (elderly) or compromised immunity systems due to prolonged illnesses are most prone to serious health threats from what is not being fully tested for and subsequently publicized.

No, it’s not safe to immerse yourself in most streams, lakes and oceanic tidal zones near creek and river mouth discharge points. A study 10 years ago revealed Hepatitis A markers in literally every stream in Southern California from Santa Barbara down to San Diego. Many wastewater plants have waivers in place that allow surface or near-shore discharges, always pleading that there’s no money in their budgets to do otherwise.

And believe it or not, there’s worse beasties lurking…not one water body that is either adjacent to or contiguous with dense development is unscathed, unpolluted. Like sniffing Burl Ives in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” there is an air of mendacity upon entering the water quality room here in California.

       Is this water safe to drink, Big Daddy?

Whether the discharges drain residential, commercial/industrial demographics or a combination thereof, they’re rife with contamination. Urban runoff, sometimes hysterically termed “nuisance flow,” is a lot more than a mere inconvenience. That constant drool is filled with pollutants that HTB doesn’t factor into their Annual Beach Report Card.

A “toxic soup tour,” that is one that takes you personally to the sources and acknowledges the mind-bending gamut of teratogenic (birth defects), mutagenic (mutant, impaired organisms) and carcinogenic constituents in such surface runoff flows would be a better educator.

And no, in this case, what doesn’t kill you does NOT make you stronger. It can impair a fetus, cause physical debilitation and disfigurements, plus kill through either acute (singular) or chronic (multiple) exposures. This goes for any life form, not just humans.

These toxic substances wipe out plant habitats that otherwise could cleanse, could actually significantly reduce bacterial pollutant loading and reduce or remove some of the toxins.

AB 411 is like worrying about scratch on your forehead when you’ve just been hit by a stray bullet in your leg. If this were triage in a hospital, your doctor would say: “To Hell with it nurse, let his head ooze a little, he’s hemorrhaging and might lose a limb.”

Don’t believe me, GOOGLE® “urban runoff toxicity” or “Constituents of Emerging Concern” (CEC) or perhaps “Persistent Organic Pollutants” (POP).

     Leg with necrotizing fasciitis from Strep A

Another problem you can research online are serious fresh water parasites like cryptosporidium and giardia as well as flesh-eating Strep A (necrotizing fasciitis). The two parasites will go through your intestinal tract and wreck havoc. At times, entire sections of your colon may need removal.

The latter will eat up your extremities and even internal organs (systemic shock), and eventual death isn’t off of the table. Open sores or cuts give it entry. They’re all there in detectable levels that inflict grievous harm or are even fatal. Yes, this is scary stuff but all too real.

There’s nothing cutting edge or futuristic about detection. Just political will is required. Science has progressed to the point where it could function as an early warning system: IF testing is performed. If not, you take your chances.

Hint to internet browsers: None are being tested for frequently or on an vigilant basis. I’ll wait.

Back yet? Know what you learned? That the 3 bacteria they sample for are really the LEAST of our exposure problems. It’s almost like magic in its deceptiveness, while they get you focused upon the right hand (bacteria) the left (seriously jeopardizing injury and death) is ignored and unmentioned.

The public, unless they read the fine print in HTB’s Report Card as though their life depended on it (and it might), should realize that what’s tested for and results provided are tested for may (not always) cause gastrointestinal, plus eye, ear, nose and throat illnesses: Enterococcus, fecal coliform and escherichia coliform.

       Sewage likely present

This is because AB 411, passed in 1997, only mandated that public health officials test for these microbiological contaminants. True, they can, if found in certain high concentrations and ratios to each other, signal possible presence of sewage. Gross as it sounds, there are worse exposure factors than human wastewater.

AB 411 High Bacterial Warning

Yes, if sampling and ongoing monitoring reveals levels deemed unsafe, then waters of the state must remain posted with warnings until such a time as subsequent sampling allows safe returned usage. No one stops anybody from going in though, mind you. And if communicable diseases are in the pollution, no one is held responsible for allowing recreational use hence mass contagion. Some protective law, huh?

Here’s what HTB boasts of at their home website: “We at Heal the Bay believe the public has the right to know the water quality at their favorite beaches. We are proud to provide West Coast residents and visitors with this information in an easy-to-understand format. We hope beachgoers will use this information to make the decisions necessary to protect their health.”

First off, HTB doesn’t actually perform the water quality sampling, they just scan and capture results online from the various public health agencies websites. These “CYA” agencies are renowned for sampling where concentrations are lowest and under conditions that will result in lower readings. That’s because either US and/or Cal/EPA will fine them big time for chronic pollution, drag their region through the media muck and mire, the public pillory as it were.

For example, because the testing agencies only monitor for the 3 bacteria, during daylight hours the ultraviolet rays knock out these microbes in droves, driving counts down appreciably into compliance parameters. Grab sampling is thus performed during the 10 am to 4 pm time span when the sunlight is strongest.

Data is being massaged because those sampling hours don’t adequately typify true overall hazardous conditions or health threats. Added to that is a common tactic for those who use stealth for dumping waste material: They do so under the cloak of night, so the illicit surface discharges into storm drain systems aren’t traceable. And they use menial, unknowledgeable workers thus avoiding exposure (or culpability) themselves.

                             Pollution Detective #1:
     Bob Caustin Properly Sampling Upper Newport Bay Sediment

Worse, what little enforcement by those empowered does take place is limited to normal business hours (8-5) and usually only on week days. If you were a potential dumper, wouldn’t you simply avoid those days and hours, take your chances with whistleblowers? And how much of the public is even aware enough to pick up the phone and dial 911 when they observe these practices?

Many janitorial commercial services are major contributors of Toxic Rule Substance and prohibited Proposition 65 chemicals they use as cleansing media which are either sloughed off during open air washing or improperly disposed of by dumping them down interior drains. Most don’t know it, but waste treatment plants can’t remove or reduce non-organic material.

Improper disposal or open dumping isn’t as unusual as the public thinks it is, in a recently adjudicated, highly publicized case Walmart got caught. They didn’t do their public image any favors by fighting the government looking for corporate examples to pillory:

         Cheap, Fast & and Out-of-Control

“Walmart Stores pleaded guilty Tuesday to improperly dumping hazardous waste in California and Missouri, agreeing to pay almost $82 million in fines. The retailer was charged with six (6) counts of violating the Clean Water Act in California and one (1) count of violating a federal law related to pesticide disposal in Missouri.

The problems stem from incidents beginning in 2003. At the time, Walmart workers tossed products, like bleach and fertilizer, into the trash or the local sewer system, rather than dealing with them as hazardous waste, according to authorities.

In total, Wal-Mart will have paid more than $110 million to resolve all these related cases. Walmart, which had $128 billion in revenues last year, said the payments should not have a material effect on its business.” Source: Stephanie Crawford, May 28, 2013 edition of the NY Times

"OMG! Bleach and pesticides are on sale!"

Court documents show the illegal dumping occurred in 16 California counties between 2003 and 2005…or could only be proven during those years. No one really knows how long this has been going on.

Federal prosecutors said the company didn't train its employees on how to handle and dispose of hazardous materials at its stores.

This conduct is alleged to have taken place at every single Wal-Mart in the country according to investigating US Justice Department environmental attorneys.

Hey, isn’t doing business in America wonderful, Wal-Mart sees this as a hand-slap, just part of the cost of doing business!

Readers should also understand that wastewater reclamation processes targeted for irrigation, even if very expensive advanced treatment train logistics are implemented, do not succeed in keeping these contaminates out of landscape broadcast systems. So these things are being constantly recycled and re-introduced, eventually building up to toxic levels.

Considering that some might be used under emergency circumstances as temporary drinking water supplies, no amount of boiling or disinfectant removes or reduces them. When so small as to qualify as “nanoparticles,” there aren’t fine mesh filters with small enough apertures to capture/strain them out so they pass on through undeterred and potentially lethal.

Mark Twain also said: “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.” HTB doesn’t take or analyze the actual samples in its own facilities, it basically collects data from obviously questionable sources and collates that information. HTB gets millions of dollars in donations, why don’t they set up a licensed lab and do their own monitoring?

The fact is that the Annual Report Card is a house of cards that crumbles, once you understand the whole game, the dance or dynamic. HTB could easily afford to outsource the sample analyses, and its got oodles of volunteers to both grab and transport the same site samples, as the public agencies, to independent labs to achieve a comparison. But they don’t.

The public needs to understand that realistically, health-wise, sampling protocol needs to be performed as objectively as possible, not by the potential violators monitoring themselves. And obviously the presence of a much wider gamut of substances needs to be investigated, detected and reported too.

When HTB petitions officials to have $10 million earmarked for future water quality monitoring, they don’t mention that it would be better spent focused upon the more severe threats, not these bacteria. All 3 bacterium are found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals.

We’re killing (or have already killed) our watercourses, our lakes, and our shoreline marine biota---Plus continue jeopardizing human health. Entire species of biomarker animals and plants are being exterminated, and those AB 411 bacteria aren’t the culprits nor do they represent the most imminent danger. This might help to explain the extinction of so many native species.

AB 411 is only a small piece of the water quality impairment puzzle, and using it as THE metric, the measuring tape for general public health and safety is absurd. Touting these Report Card compliance “safe harbor” parameters and fox-guarding-the-henhouse samples as beneficial personally eludes me.

The intent might be superficially nice, it does help HTB to justify the millions in donations and grants, but it leads the public into a false sense of security. Skepticism is “healthy” when it comes to government procedures, nothing’s changed, so Mark Twain was spot on in his historical cynicism regarding facts and pliability.

I’ve often uttered a version of Bill Clinton’s gay-in-the-military-mistake to sum this mess up: “Don’t test, don’t tell.” Until public health agencies are required to test for the most harmful, the most threatening contaminants to both humans and our ecologies, then we’re being misled, intentionally hoodwinked.

The recent NPDES Stormwater Permit passed by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board (Region 9-Cal/EPA) on May 8, 2013 sets a higher bar. The monitoring and subsequent action levels will trigger more stringent runoff protection metrics for drainages under its jurisdiction that will then require yet more advanced, expanded monitoring. It’s a water quality feedback loop.

The more information gathered, the more divulged, the more we’ll discover how ubiquitous and widespread the worst, the most impactful pollution really is….and this is the only way we’ll reverse what starting getting crazy at least 50 years ago.

Ph (either high or low acidity), chlorine, cadmium, copper, chromium, lead, nickel, zinc, iron, manganese, phosphorus, nitrogen, and other priority pollutants that discharge to surf zones, whose concentrations exceed safe levels of significance are proposed for sampling, and they will be revealed in the next year or so. Part of me wonders if HTB will integrate or announce those results in their Report Card.

Copermittees, those that must abide by these NPDES Permits, will be forced to disclose the real state of our surface waters and oceanic mixing areas. Unlike bacteria, the substances I’ve listed do NOT dissipate or disperse rapidly, nor do they disappear miraculously or die off. Instead they wind up being directly swallowed or in the flesh that we eventually ingest. That includes not only aquatic species but fowl and game as well. Remember that deer and other animals we stalk, having no choice, drink from these streams.

NOW you know why USEPA warns you not to eat near-shore caught fish and shellfish more than once per week. Mercury, PCB and DDT are a few of the most acclaimed culprits. Two basic biological principles at work are “bioaccumulation” and  “biomagnification.” the storing and distribution of contaminates in various predator-prey food chains, the way they cascade up and down through aquatic, riparian and land form eco-system members.

Swimming or wading anywhere near a creek or river mouth in Southern California is an IQ test. Oh yes, they have these pitifully small warning signs, but no one is enjoined, no one is forbidden from wading around in the land-warmed urban runoff or swimming in it. Getting a sore throat is the least of your worries.

Thankfully, your local water district, the provider of your family’s drinking water, is required by oversight protocols to keep you informed with specific details via pamphlets and flyers mailed to your residence. Like the Capital One® credit card commercial that utters: “What’s in YOUR wallet,” it’s about time that government honestly, truthfully and openly disclosed “What’s in YOUR surface water?”
If Heal The Bay says this water is safe to swim in, well, then it is!
Those bacterial count concentrations might be lower, but better, more accurate, evolving science methodology is reflecting the continuing spiral, the degradation of surface water integrity. Deterrence drives compliance, not pats on the head for minor and questionably false achievements begging for challenge.

In all fairness, identifiable industrial contributions called “Point Source” have reduced their contaminated discharges tremendously, some assert up to 95% over the past decade. This is because fine rates and frequency of enforcement have risen, as have the tightening up of restrictions. EPA and Cal OSHA can just shut them down pending compliance or invoke punitive damages, costing corporations millions.

As for the self-limited bacterial Report Card, HTB has become part of the problem, not the solution. It has given a false sense of security to unsuspecting recreational water users that believe such high profile environmental NGOs are the bar.

As a water quality analyst and regulatory compliance advisor, I give them an “F” for failing to inform and protect the public, for providing solace, shelter and a safe harbor to chronic Clean Water Act violators.

The next shoe to drop might be Cal/EPA’s: The 9 State Regional Boards might be swayed into closing or at minimum limiting recreational estuaries and beaches once the test results are in. That’s when all of the “caca” will really hit the fan.


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