Gastrointestinal illnesses caused by beach pollution in Orange and Los Angeles counties results in healthcare costs between $21 million and $414 million annually, according to a recently released study.

The Los Angeles Times, which examined the report in a story today, says pollution along those stretches of beach cause as many as 1.5 million people to become sick annually.

Cleaning up bacteria-laden waste before it runs off into the water may be less expensive than coping with the healthcare costs of the illnesses it causes, the Times reports.

According to the Times:

The findings are certain to stoke ongoing debate over the costs and benefits of cleaning up storm water runoff, the chief cause of dirty ocean water in Southern California. Runoff laden with oil, pesticides and human and animal waste flows from scores of disparate sources into storm drains and, ultimately, the ocean. Local governments are under cleanup mandates but have resisted given the high cost.

Jonathan Bishop, executive officer for the state’s Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, said the new study shows that it makes economic sense to treat water upstream before it reaches the coast.

“This is what we’ve been saying for the last five years,” Bishop said. “It’s expensive to address urban runoff, but the costs of not addressing it are even higher.”

ROB DAVIS

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