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Pollution Closed Beaches 39 Times in '97, Report Says

July 15, 1998

Pollution from storm-drain runoff and sewage spills prompted officials to close or post health advisories at Los Angeles County beaches 39 times last year, an environmental group said Tuesday.

Although the number of days that swimmers and surfers were warned to stay away from the water in Los Angeles was down from 48 in 1996, that does not necessarily mean that water quality is improving, said the Natural Resources Defense Council in its eighth annual report on beach-monitoring practices nationwide.

Statewide, closures rose to 1,140 in 1997, from 1,060 the previous year.

There were more than 4,100 closures or health advisories issued in 1997 nationwide, said council attorney David Beckman at a Venice Beach news conference Tuesday.

"Most of us would not accept a restaurant that is closed dozens of times every year for health violations, and yet our beaches are closed or restricted at least that many times year after year," said Beckman.

The report said county health officials should have warned the public of potential health hazards more often in 1997. The group said National Weather Service rainfall records indicate that there was the danger of storm-drain runoff on at least five days when the county did not issue health advisories for beaches.

Jack Petralia of the county Department of Health Services, which issues the advisories, said he had not seen the report and could not comment on its findings. But he defended the agency's policy on beach closures and advisories.

"When we feel there's a health hazard we do everything in our power to make sure everyone who might want to go into the water is notified," he said.

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