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How polluted is the beach?
We've been on the beach at the bottom of Park in Alameda a few
times lately, near the bird sanctuary, and it smells absolutely
foul. Our toddler LOVES it there, the birds, the water, the
sand, the airplanes, but we're wondering if the water is safe to
swim in, and if the sand is safe to play in. I realize this is a
little bit like asking how safe air is to breathe, but I'm
wondering what people might know about this specifice location.
Obviously there are lots of people there both in the sand and in
the water, but other people have expressed horror at the idea
too, saying it is far too polluted. Does anyone really KNOW just
how polluted or dangerous it is??? Any advice, opinions, or
even better, actual factual information would be greatly
Dreading the answer
We recently attended a birthday party at Crab Cove in Alameda,
and I asked one of the docents at the nature center this very
question. Although he didn't address the issue of sand, he said
the water was indeed very polluted, that San Francisco Bay is the
most polluted bay in the Americas, and that it contains chemicals
that could penetrate the skin. However, he seemed to feel that
if you went into it no more than a few times a year, the risks
would be minimal. As we walked on the beach, I noticed some
areas with foul odors and was very nervous about allowing my
daughters to swim in the water. It's a shame, as it is a lovely
spot and, unlike at ocean beaches, the water is warmish. As it is
nearly irresistible to them, we have decided not to go back. It
has made me more interested in the activities of Save the Bay
(savesfbay.org). You might want to check out their website,
although it doesn't give hard advice on this.
What you're smelling isn't pollution -- it's how Bay Area tidal
mudflats smell (now you see why back in the old days, everybody
dumped their trash in the wetlands....)
The beach is just fine.
When my son was 10 months old we went to Crab Cove
with my daughter's preschool class. He played in the sand
like any 10 month old would do. Within a day he developed a
rash on his elbows and behind his knees. We began the
orderly removal of all suspicious foods over a very long
period of time, all the while suspecting the beach itself. To
this day, nothing has stopped this itchy, red, blistering rash
that breaks out unexpectedly and takes
weeks to heal. Calendula does provides a small relief.
Just in case you're wondering, my son is now 8 1/2 years
old. My intuition says...don't do it.
anon at another beach
I've lived in Alameda for four years and although I'm not an
environmental scientist, what I've noticed is that the e.coli (and
other) counts tend to be highest right there at the beach near
Park Street. (Some government agency--not sure who--posts the
counts near the sidewalk in four or five places along the beach
during the summer.) As you head up toward Grand Avenue or Crab
Cove the counts diminish. Also, the smell you mentioned near Park
Street is often just the smell of the wetland--even a healthy
wetland can smell bad to some people. (I like the smell of a
healthy marsh myself!) But sometimes that marsh smells really
toxic--I'm not sure if it has to do with rainfall or something off
in the bacterial soup, or what.You can't play in the marsh area
anyway, so I'd just move to where you can't smell it.
I think of the beach in Alameda as a major asset...it would be
nice if someone would look into those bacterial counts near the
Park Street sewage outflow and figure out what the cause is. Maybe
something could be done during the South Shore Mall retrofit??
As you know, different people have different tolerance levels.
In our view, it's OK to play in the beach and water but we
wouldn't eat anything caught there.
I don't have factual information about the beach beyond this:
our pediatrician, Dr. Robert Nicholson, whom we have never found
to be in the least alarmist, was very shocked to hear that we
were allowing our (then) small children to play in the shallows
at Crab Cove on Alameda. He told us that one of his patients
had had a very serious bout of illness after ingesting some
seawater at that beach. She was a small girl playing ''tea
party'' at the beach and happened to swallow some of the water.
As a general rule, ports and harbors are more polluted than
other waters, not only by accidental or deliberate dumping of
sewage from boats and ships, but by leaks of fuel and chemicals,
and from the toxic materials used in marine anti-fouling paints
meant to discourage the growth of seaweed and barnacles on hulls.
All that said, we still wade at Crab Cove and Crown Beach, but
we don't put our faces in, keep small babies out, and rinse off
once we get home.
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to hopefully answer some
questions and allay some fears. The beach at Park St. can be
very stinky, due to the seaweed that accumulates at the
concrete groin. The reason the groin is there is to trap sand
and preserve the beach from eroding as quickly as Mother Nature
would like it to (it is not a natural beach). Park staff rakes
the seaweed almost daily from late June to October, with a very
large tractor, in an attempt to keep it from piling up. The
rest of the beach is not nearly as stinky because the seaweed
is spread out more uniformly and breaks down quickly. Though
the seaweed is a nuisance it is not toxic.
The East Bay Regional Park District tests the water quality
weekly and staff posts the results of those tests on the
restroom buildings along Shoreline Drive and at a couple of
other bulletin boards. The tests are for bacteria that could
potentially cause health problems in humans ( fecal coliform
and E.coli as well as total coliform). While there is no
sewage outlet in the area, there are sometimes high coliform
counts in several locations along the beach, usually near storm
drains, sometimes after first rains, sometimes after lots of
birds have moved through, etc. The tides ebb and flow about
every six hours, so the areas are always changing through this
We have thousands of visitors to our 2 B= miles of shoreline
every year, enjoying the shallow, virtually current free
waters, wading, swimming, windsurfing, and kiteboarding. If
you would like to contact me directly, please feel free to call
(510) 521-7090 anytime and I will try to answer any questions.
Thank you again.
Anne Rockwell, Park Supervisor
East Bay Regional Park District
R.W. Crown Memorial State Beach
Birthday Party at Crab Cove
We had my son's 4th birthday party at the nature centre at Crab Cove
Regional Park (part of East Bay parks & rec) in Alameda last Sept. They
have a choice of 3 parties; we had a tidal pool-themed party, and I
think the other choices were reptiles or birds. The cost is $50 for up
to 10 kids, and $5 per child over 10 kids. They had about 1 hour of
indoor activities, which for the tidal-pool party was an overview of
what we would see when we got outside. They also dressed my son up in a
crab costume to explain all of the parts of a crab, and what they do.
After a craft session during which the kids made crab hats with
antennae, we went outside with the naturalist and poked around in tidal
pools for another hour. They also set up tables for lunch (we had to
provide all food), and gave each child a gift bag filled with loot from
the gift shop (a pencil, an eraser, shells and a plastic crab). We had
a lot of fun, but it would probably work better for an older group of
kids, because the 3-4 year olds in our crowd didn't understand
everything the naturalist was trying to tell them. (The naturalist was
great, though, and really tried to keep it to their age group). The
nature centre is closed for the winter, but I think that it reopens in
March. We had to time our party around the low tides, and booked about
1 month in advance. Because we have a small apartment, we could not
really host a party at home. This was a good place for a party, because
there is lots of room for the kids to run around outside. For this
age-group, we needed to have 1 adult per 3 kids, but all of the parents
wanted to come too, so we had plenty of grown-ups around. (I just asked
son if he thought other kids should have their parties there, and he
jumped up and down and shouted yes!)
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