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RECREATIONAL WATERS PROGRAM

Ocean Monitoring :: Frequently Asked Questions

Is it safe to swim in the ocean?

Yes. The vast majority of ocean waters along the coast of Los Angeles County meet State ocean water quality standards. The only exceptions are areas adjacent to or in front of discharging storm drains and after major rainstorms.  Flowing storm drains and areas not meeting standards are posted with warning signs.  A rain advisory is issued anytime ocean waters are affected by a rainstorm.  On rare occasions when there is a sewage or chemical spill, beaches are posted with closure signs.

Why is runoff from storm drains a problem?

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 pathogens. 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.

What are ocean waters tested for?

Ocean water is analyzed for three types of "indicator bacteria":  total coliform, fecal coliform or E. coli, and enterococcus. These bacteria can be found in the natural environment as well as in the intestinal tract of warm blooded animals. When present, they indicate the possible presence of disease causing bacteria, viruses or protozoa. When results exceed State standards, beaches are posted with warning signs in the vicinity of the high bacteria counts.

What types of pathogens can be found in runoff?
ORGANISM DISEASE SYMPTOMS
BACTERIA
E. coli Gastroenteritis diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever
Salmonella species Salmonellosis diarrhea, stomach cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, anorexia
Shigella Shigellosis diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, nausea
VIRUS
Rotavirus Gastroenteritis diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea
Norwalk virus Gastroenteritis diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea
Coxsackievirus Respiratory illnesses, meningitis, myocarditis sore throat, cough, sinus infection, fever, earache
Adenovirus Gastroenteritis and respiratory illness diarrhea, stomach cramps, ear/nose/throat infections
Echovirus Respiratory illnesses, meningitis, myocarditis sore throat, cough, sinus infection, fever, earache
Hepatitis A Infectious hepatitis fever, anorexia, nausea, jaundice
PROTOZOA
Giardia lamblia Giardiasis diarrhea, cramps, weight loss, fatigue
Cryptosporidium Cryptospordiasis diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, weight loss
Amebiasis Amebiasis bloody diarrhea, fever, chills


What happens when ocean water does not meet State standards?


When testing indicates that ocean water does not meet State standards, lifeguards are instructed by the Department of Public Health to post warning signs in the affected area. The warning sign indicates that State bacteriological standards have been exceeded and that contact with water in the area may increase the risk of illness to a swimmer. The warning signs are removed after additional testing indicates that bacterial levels have returned to normal levels. If there is a sewage spill or chemical discharge, beaches are immediately closed regardless of the bacteria levels. Beaches are reopened only after testing indicates ocean waters meet State standards.

What can I do to stay safe when swimming in the ocean?

  • As a precaution, avoid contact with storm drain water or runoff and ocean waters adjacent to where storm drains discharge into the ocean for a distance of at least 100 yards
  • Avoid swimming adjacent to piers. Piers attract birds which may cause elevated bacterial levels. In addition, plumbing under piers may occasionally be in disrepair and may discharge sewage into the water
  • Ocean water should be avoided for 72 hours after a rainstorm. The high volume of storm drain water discharged during and after a rainstorm can cause high bacteria levels throughout ocean waters along the coast, especially near storm drain discharges
  • If a beach area is posted with warning signs or is closed, avoid all contact with the water. If you have any question about where it is safe to swim ask a lifeguard
  • Call the Environmental Health Beach Advisory and Closure Hotline at (800) 525-5662 for the latest information on ocean water quality conditions or visit the website at www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/beach  and choose "Los Angeles County Beach Advisories"

What can I do to help?

Remember, whatever is discharged into the street or on the ground flows to a storm drain and eventually make its way to the ocean.

  • Properly dispose of animal waste
  • Properly dispose of pesticides, household paints, chemicals and motor oil. Never pour chemicals on the ground or down a storm drain
  • Use a broom rather than a hose to clean driveways and sidewalks
  • Keep our beaches clean by picking-up after yourself every time you go to the beach. Participate in beach clean-up days

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Director of Environmental Health
Terri S. Williams
 
Public Health has made reasonable efforts to provide accurate translation. However, no computerized translation is perfect and is not intended to replace traditional translation methods. If questions arise concerning the accuracy of the information, please refer to the English edition of the website, which is the official version.
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