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SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA / A news summary | The Regional

Testing Criticized in Lengthy Beach Closure

March 02, 2000

ORANGE COUNTY — Contamination that closed Huntington Beach for more than two months last summer might have been cut short if a county task force had used some key tests earlier, a panel of experts concluded on Wednesday.

The panel of microbiologists, oceanographers and environmentalists concluded a three-day review of the beach closure and subsequent investigation as part of a program sponsored by a federal program for environmental studies.

The panel heard presentations from task force members, including the Orange County Sanitation District, which spent more than $1.5 million investigating the contamination.

One mistake investigators made in tracking the source was not testing sooner to determine if the bacteria came from animals or humans.

Suspecting it might come from human waste, officials spent much time and effort looking for sewage leaks. Eventually, however, they concluded the contamination was caused by a combination of urban runoff and waste from animals in the Talbert Marsh.

Had they identified the bacteria sooner, officials might have diverted water from the marsh into a treatment plant, possibly allowing the beach to reopen sooner, experts said.

Additionally, DNA fingerprinting and tests for water-borne viruses should have been ordered during peak bacteria levels in July after investigators knew from samplings that they were high in June, panelists said. This could have helped pinpoint the cause of the contamination.

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