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Beach pollution is worst during new and full moon

A new study of 60 beaches in Southern California suggests that water pollution varies with the lunar cycle, reaching the highest levels when tides are ebbing during the new and full moon. The findings could help beachgoers and managers better assess the potential risk of swimming.

The report appears in the Aug. 1 issue of the American Chemical Society's journal Environmental Science & Technology. ACS is the world's largest scientific society.

Coastal water quality is controlled by a number of complex physical and biological factors, including tidal cycles and seasonal rainfall. This complexity makes beach water monitoring difficult, with levels of bacteria in a certain area changing in just a few minutes.

For the new study, the researchers examined monitoring data compiled for beaches throughout Southern California, keeping track of tidal patterns and analyzing them for concentrations of enterococci -- bacteria that allow scientists to estimate the risk of illness from swimming in marine waters. "This is the largest array of beaches examined at the same time for a similar pattern," says Alexandria Boehm, Ph.D., an environmental engineer at Stanford University and lead author of the study.

She and her colleagues at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project found that in the full and new phases of the moon, levels of enterococci were higher at the vast majority of the beaches studied. Boehm found that during so-called "spring tides," when water levels vary the most between high and low tides, a beach is twice as likely to be out of compliance with water quality standards. Spring tides are exceptionally high or low tides that take place during the full and new moons, but have nothing to do with the season of the year.

The results are of immediate practical use to swimmers and beach managers alike, according to Boehm. "The general public can use the phase of the moon and the tide stage to assess the relative risk o
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Source:American Chemical Society


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