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San Diego Leaders Want New System To Test Beaches’ Water Quality

People enjoying the sand and surf in Ocean Beach. August 1, 2014

San Diego's civic and environmental leaders urged on Friday passage of legislation that will allow use of a new system that tests water quality at local beaches and provides much faster results than the current method.

Senate Bill 1395, authored by Sen. Marty Block, D-Lemon Grove, would authorize local health officers to use a polymerase chain reaction testing method, a fast and inexpensive technique used to copy small segments of DNA but that can also be applied for water quality testing.

Block and other supporters of the new method say results would be available in around four hours, instead of the current 24 to 48 hours.

State Senator Marty Block visits Ocean Beach, urging passage of SB 1395. August 1, 2014

"SB1395 safeguards the public and protects local economies," Block said at a news conference. "We want the public alerted to any health danger as quickly as possible. We also want beaches reopened as soon as possible for visitors to enjoy once safety is assured."

Local officials for years have focused on testing of beach water quality as not just a health issue, but an economic one since San Diego's coastline is a major draw for tourists. At the same time, water along the shoreline can be fouled by runoff following rainstorms or sewage discharged from the Tijuana River.

Swimming, surfing or participating in other activities in polluted water can result in stomach flu, skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, meningitis and hepatitis, according to Block.

He said that California Coastkeeper Alliance provided him with estimates that every year approximately 1 million Southern California beachgoers contract gastrointestinal illness from exposure to polluted coastal areas — with a public health cost of $21 million to $51 million. The information came from research published in an American Chemical Society publication.

Correction

An earlier version of this story attributed statistics that Sen. Marty Block used to the California Coastkeeper Alliance. The alliance says it provided the figures to Block, but they were from research published in American Chemical Society publication. The story has been updated.

"Our beaches define San Diego, and San Diegans expect them to be safe," said Supervisor Greg Cox. "That is why we must continue to improve our beach water testing and get same-day results. This bill allows us to do that."

San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerry Sanders, Megan Baehrens of San Diego Coastkeeper and Serge Dedina of Wildcoast also spoke at the news conference to urge passage of the legislation.

Block's bill, if passed, would amend Section 115880 of the Health and Safety Code to have local officials assess whether they want to use the PCR tests, but it does not require their use.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the legislation on Aug. 6.

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