208592 At the intersection of power, politics, and public health: Coastal water pollution in Rincon, California

Tuesday, November 10, 2009: 3:42 PM

Laura Orlando, MPA , Department of Environmental Health, Boston University School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Background: Swimmers and surfers suffer from gastrointestinal illness, skin rashes, ear infections, and other troubles from polluted water. California, with 840 miles of coastline and frequent beach closures, is at the center of the debate about the sources of coastal pollution. Rincon Point, a surf beach with 80 surrounding homes on septic systems, is demonstrative of the science, debates, and public perceptions that lead to extending the sewer line or not to protect water resources. In 2006, Rincon septic tanks were targeted as the source of fecal coliform bacteria in a state-funded study. Meanwhile, the Carpinteria Sanitation District discharges 1.6 million gallons of sewage into the ocean, 1000 feet from shore. The southeastern prevailing current carries this effluent towards Rincon Beach. In late 2007, Rincon voted to join the Carpinteria Sanitary Assessment District and thereby provide significant funding for the septic to sewer conversion. The vote was bitter and contentious. Methods: Data from the state-funded study, along with other sources of information about coastal pollution, were analyzed. Interviews were conducted with Rincon residents and public officials. Local and regional development objectives were analyzed along with local and state rules and methods concerning water pollution control and waste management. Conclusion: The conclusions of the study did not match the data presented. Stakeholders with overriding concerns other than public health controlled the debate. State agencies were compromised by their relationship to the sanitary district. Public perceptions about septic v. sewer did match the available science on waste disposal and water pollution.

Learning Objectives:
Explain the importance of assessment districts; Identify ways in which public perception influences debate on environmental policy and action; Identify the stakeholders in septic v. sewer projects; Analyze the data presented to the Rincon community Describe the ways in which that data was used to influence the 2007 vote to sewer the community.

Keywords: Water Quality, Public Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a civil engineer with 20 years experience working at the intersection of health, environment, and community development. I teach at the Boston University School of Public Health and have published several articles on environmental health and waste management.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.