No one should get sick from swimming at their favorite beach. We all deserve clean and safe waves, and Heal the Bay works every day towards that goal. Unfortunately, Southern California beaches can have high levels of bacteria and viruses, carried to the sea by urban runoff.If you swim in polluted water, these pathogens can give you the stomach flu, skin rashes or respiratory illnesses. Other toxins and contaminants like heavy metals also pose long-term health risks.
Bacteria and viruses
Our sewage systems are very effective at removing contaminants, but swimmers can get sick from swimming at beaches contaminated with urban runoff,because this water is not treated. The good news is that there is a lot we can do to keep people from getting ill. We can support pollution limits and regulations that help cut down on the amount of urban runoff polluting our beaches. If you check the Beach Report Card, the only comprehensive way to check water quality on the west coast, you can also avoid polluted beaches. Heal the Bay conducts research on the impacts of polluted water on human health, and try to identify and clean up California's most polluted beaches. But to keep our beaches from becoming polluted in the first place, we all need to preserve open space, and fight for environmentally sensitive development, while also grappling with bacteria problems from septic systems and sewage spills.
In addition to bacteria and viruses, sometimes our ocean can have high levels of heavy metals and other toxins, like DDT and PCBs. While these contaminants don’t cause immediate illness, they can lead to a greater health risks later in life. The chemicals can also accumulate in fish and other marine life, making some fish unsafe to eat. If you fish off the local piers, you might see Heal the Bay's Angler Outreach workers talking to subsistence fishermen about avoiding contaminated fish (particularly White Croaker), and how to cut down on their exposure to these toxic chemicals. Some of these toxins are from decades-old deposits, like the DDT hot spot off the coast of Palos Verdes, but stormwater also carries toxins to our beaches. Some of the best ways to keep those pollutants from making their way to the beach include water reclamation and recycling, and pollution limits that force accountability.
Heal the Bay works hard to solve these persistent pollution issues. Our scientists conduct research, testify in hearings, comment on permits, and help regulators find the most effective and efficient ways to protect water quality. But our advocacy efforts also depend on you. By following our action alerts, and sending in letters or making phone calls on the issues that matter to you, you impact the health of our oceans in a real and long-term way.