The beach is where the OC gives birth to its summers and perhaps nowhere so obviously as the placid inlets where babies and toddlers—the girls in bathing suits of frilly pastels; the boys in mini-baggies—are brought to play in warm, calm water. Parents look on protectively; they've slathered the kids with Baby Block SPF 3000, packed lunches, paid for parking and put up umbrellas. The children gurgle and coo as they splash safely in the gentle ripples lapping the sand; it's a beautiful scene. Except that over the years the beaches that OC has designated for its children have come to feature some of the dirtiest and most dangerous ocean water in the county. That's because the same gentle surf conditions that ensure children won't be swept away also create stagnant waters where pollutants brew. Misguided by maternal-sounding names, parents baste their kids in an unsavory gravy of E. coli, fecal coliform, salmonella, shigella, cryptosporidium, rotavirus and enterovirus, just to name a few. These bacteria, viruses and protozoa can cause gastroenteritis, fever, diarrhea, respiratory infections, rashes and meningitis. Annually, the dirtiest baby beach in Orange County is in Dana Point Harbor, nestled in a scenic U-shaped shoreline between a pair of storm drains that dump urban runoff right into the water where the children play. While not technically designated a "baby beach," Newport Dunes attracts even more children, and the water quality there is frequently even worse. It's pretty ugly up in wealthy Huntington Harbour, too: here a stretch of sand designated Mother's Beach is near a storm drain. The common thread linking these beaches—and many more like them—is low tidal circulation, Mother Nature's way to cleanse the sands. Rather than bringing their kids to wander these waters, parents are better off letting them play in the toilet. At least that gets cleaned once in awhile.
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