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Orange County

Study Finds No Threat to Surfers

Health: Sponsors sought evidence against ocean dumping of sewage but say too few were tested.

July 12, 2002|WILLIAM LOBDELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A limited health study of Huntington Beach surfers completed this week shows no evidence that frequent ocean users have a greater risk of contracting hepatitis A, a virus that can flourish in polluted waters.

Aaron Gloskowski, a doctor based in Orange, conducted the research to determine whether sewage spills that have plagued the waters off Huntington Beach and Newport Beach in recent years have led to an increase in disease among local surfers.

The Surfrider Foundation, which co-sponsored the study, had hoped the research would help in its fight to stop the Orange County Sanitation District's practice of releasing 245 million gallons a day of partially treated sewage--half of which is processed below federal standards--four miles off Huntington Beach.

"There's no evidence that [the district's sewage plume] is an active source for transmission for the hepatitis A virus," Gloskowski said.

The study showed that three, or about 8%, of the 40 surfers tested had been exposed to the hepatitis A virus, compared with a 23% exposure rate for people of the same age in the general population, Gloskowski said.

"If we'd gotten results that 60% to 70% of the surfers had been exposed, then we could say, 'OK, we really need to study this,' " Gloskowski said.

For the study, Surfrider volunteers and nurses spent a weekend last month recruiting surfers and swimmers fresh from the water near the Huntington Beach Pier. They also took blood from other surfers who responded to public notices sent out by Surfrider.

On Wednesday, the sanitation district is scheduled to decide whether to seek renewal of a federal waiver that allows it to treat half of the waste water it pumps into the ocean at levels below those adopted by most of the nation's 16,000 sanitation districts. Its waiver expires next year.

In May, the state Assembly passed a bill that would block the district from extending its waiver to the federal standards. The proposal is being debated by state senators.

Gloskowski and Surfrider officials both caution that scientific conclusions can't be drawn from the limited sampling.

"We didn't get enough people tested to show pollution out there is hurting surfers," said Lisa Brooks, who heads Surfrider's Huntington Beach/Seal Beach chapter. "We also didn't test for other illnesses."

Stretches of the Huntington Beach shoreline have been closed repeatedly in recent years because of water contamination. The source has been difficult to pinpoint despite a $5-million study. Urban runoff, a nearby marsh, leaky sewer pipes and the district's offshore sewage outfall are all suspected.

Gloskowski's research fulfilled a requirement for the third year of his residency program.

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