California Crud

NYT Sunday Styles captures the stink of the beach

Props to The New York Times’ Sunday Styles section for running a good story about Southern California beach pollution yesterday. It’s a perennial problem in the state, especially in the lower half. Most of the crud comes from storm drains that carry contaminants from urban areas to the ocean. After heavy rains, lifeguards typically post warning signs telling beach goes to avoid the water for seventy-two hours.

The NYT article doesn’t get too sciency. There isn’t a lot of information on the storm drains, for instance, or the bacteria-coliform, E. coli and enterococcus-that health officials look for. It is the Styles section, after all, so the story focuses, instead, on how pollution affects beach culture. Author Mireya Navarro describes, in vivid detail, the stink and discoloration of sewage-tainted ocean water, and she backs it up with plenty of testimony from local sand rats. “Have you ever tasted bong water by accident?” one disgusted surfer asks her, by way of analogy.

Not that Californians are so easily deterred. Navarro also seeks out the devil-may-care ocean lovers, asking, in a Seinfeldian moment, “Who are these people?” She finds a few-heat-suffocated inlanders, dumb tourists, and die-hards who “protect themselves … by rinsing body cavities with hydrogen peroxide.” Yikes. As a native of the state, I can tell you it’s much easier to just wait the seventy-hours after a rainstorm. Or, as Navarro suggests, check the weekly report cards issued by counties along the coast.

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Curtis Brainard writes on science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.