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How polluted is the beach?

June 2004

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 appreciated! 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. Pamela
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. Sara
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?? Susan
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. anon
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. anon
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 flushing action.

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
Alameda, California

Birthday Party at Crab Cove

Feb 1999

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 my son if he thought other kids should have their parties there, and he jumped up and down and shouted yes!) Barbara


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