- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 5, 2006

MALIBU, Calif. (AP) — Just whose waste is fouling the most star-studded stretch of the Southern California coast?

Los Angeles County officials intend to find out, and if the evidence leads back to the toilets of some of Hollywood’s rich and famous, the sewage really could hit the fan.

“This is going to get messy,” predicts Mark Pestrella, the public works official assigned to the project.

Environmentalists and health officials suspect Malibu homeowners’ leaky septic tanks are allowing what gets flushed down the toilet to flow down the hills and into the Pacific Ocean. To identify the offenders, authorities intend to use DNA testing and, if necessary, get court warrants to inspect septic tanks. And that includes tanks buried in the back yards of Hollywood celebrities.

Malibu, whose spectacular seaside cliffs, canyons and beaches have attracted numerous environmentally minded celebrities over the years, including Sting and Tom Hanks, was incorporated in 1991 specifically to stop construction of a sewer line. There are an estimated 2,400 septic tanks in this city of multimillion-dollar homes strung along 25 miles of coast.

Malibu residents fiercely guard their privacy and their right to use septic tanks, and many deny their septic systems are the source of dangerous ocean bacteria levels, which rise sharply after heavy rains.

Under pressure from Southern California regulators, investigators will begin testing seawater in the next few months. If DNA shows the waste is human and not from, say, raccoons or coyotes, the investigators will follow the trail up creeks that traverse neighborhoods in Malibu, where clean-water advocates such as Pierce Brosnan and Ted Danson live.

Where the tests show a concentration of human waste, inspectors will sleuth out the source. Though they will not request DNA samples from residents to match waste with its human source, they may ask a judge for authority to inspect tanks of property owners who bar the inspectors from taking samples.

“It is a big deal that the county is now saying, ‘We’re willing to go on to properties to see what the source of fecal contamination is,’” says Mark Gold, executive director of the local environmental group Heal the Bay.

Malibu leaders have argued that the pollution comes from a wastewater treatment plant, storm runoff and bird droppings. Malibu actress and animal rights activist Pamela Anderson contends the real polluter is animal agriculture, such as chicken farms.

“When the results of these tests come back, I’ll bet that once again we’ll find that it’s people’s meat addiction, not their septic tanks, … causing this pollution,” Mrs. Anderson wrote in an e-mail. “The best thing any of us can do to fight pollution is to adopt a vegetarian diet.”

If county officials find suspect systems, they will inform the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. The board could fine homeowners or require them to upgrade their systems at an estimated cost of $30,000.

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