Lifeguards dealing with tough working conditions at Children’s Pool

By Dave Schwab
Staff Writer

Reports have surfaced that lifeguards at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool may be getting ill from a continuing buildup of harbor seal, seagull, pigeon, rat and squirrel waste at the beach and in the condemned lifeguard tower there.

The condemned lifeguard tower at La Jolla's Children's Pool has become a haven for birds and rats. Photo: Dave Schwab

One lifeguard who works at Children’s Pool, Alex Riley, said he missed a month of work in June after contracting spinal meningitis and being hospitalized for treatment. He is back on the job now but has a claim pending against the city asking for back pay from missed time.
Riley said he feels that Children’s Pool might be a hazardous place to work.

“A lot of us (lifeguards) had respiratory issues off and on this whole past winter,” he said. “There’s definitely issues with air quality around here. The city should take responsibility for this situation. They’re supposed to be able to provide us with a safe, clean working environment, which they have not done.”

San Diego Lifeguard Chief Rick Wurts, noting that he couldn’t talk about employees’ illnesses because of federal privacy laws, said, “There has been no established connection” last week when asked to respond to the report.

A county health official, Michele Ginsberg, medical director of the epidemiology and immunization branch in the county’s Health and Human Services Department, who is also bound by those laws, said she could not release how many cases have been reported in a specific area, like La Jolla.

However, said she there had not been “a recent cluster of cases in any one area.”

Asked whether the illness meningitis — inflammation of the meninges, the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord — could be contracted from airborne exposure or by contact with contaminated water, she answered, “It’s highly unlikely, not from exposure to the workplace.”

Another lifeguard stationed at the Children’s Pool, Sgt. Ed Harris, said he couldn’t “positively say that illnesses have resulted from exposure to feces (in and around the pool).” But the problem got serious enough in recent weeks, he added, that guards decided to “borrow a power washer from a construction company and blow away accumulated bird feces” on the roof.

The old lifeguard tower is fenced off and closed. Photo: Dave Schwab

In some spots, he said, it was as much as 2 inches deep. Since then, spikes and other obstacles have been put on the roof to discourage birds from settling there, he added.
Harris described working conditions as “a tough situation” at the temporary lifeguard tower where prevailing winds come in off the beach.

“It’s hard to watch the water when your eyes are watering from the stench of the seals and the birds when it gets really hot in July and August,” he said.

Harris said birds and rodents have nested in the condemned tower and its bathrooms, worsening the situation.

“The lifeguard’s union wants to eradicate anything that might cause illness,” said Harris, noting pest control companies have also been consulted about eradicating troublesome pests.

Harris said First District Councilwoman Sherri Lightner’s office has been pushing to have the condemned lifeguard tower dismantled earlier rather than later, but thus far has been unsuccessful.

Ginsberg, the county health official, said meningitis is caused by many different agents, but is primarily transmitted person to person through intimate contact via exchange of bodily fluids.

Ginsberg added, “We have to recognize they could have had proximity to other people who may have had exposure, and that could happen almost anywhere.”

Ginsberg said meningitis is one of more than 90 diseases that are must be reported to county authorities. Reports come from medical professionals or laboratories. But typically, Ginsberg added, such reports only occur where there are “clusters,” excessively high numbers of cases in a prescribed area over a small amount of time.

Due to privacy laws, she said she could “We have not had a recent cluster of cases in any one area,” she said, adding 98 cases of viral meningitis were reported the first six months of this year throughout San Diego County.

If a disease like meningitis is reported, Ginsberg said authorities would try to track its source if it’s an extreme case. She said affected individuals are interviewed to see who they’ve been in close contact with, and then those contacts are warned. In the case of clusters in a particular area, health authorities conduct an investigation to attempt to track down the source.

Related posts:

  1. Council to consider banning dogs from Children’s Pool, adjacent areas
  2. Divers pulled from water off La Jolla
  3. New lifeguard tower opens near Scripps Pier
  4. Judge sends seal rope matter back to Planning Commission
  5. Seal ‘wars’ continue at La Jolla’s Children’s Pool

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Posted by Dave Schwab on Aug 17, 2011. Filed under Featured Story, La Jolla, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

17 Comments for “Lifeguards dealing with tough working conditions at Children’s Pool”

  1. So if it's so dangerous – and I believe it is – why are people swimming there? I was appalled when I walked by on Sunday and saw families in the water. Nearby, a spokesperson for La Jolla divers was encouraging "shared use" of the Children's Pool – but I bet he wouldn't let his kids swim in polluted water. It seems to me that people are hanging out at the Children's Pool to prove the point that they can – but at the same time, they are putting their health at risk.

    • Seal Team 6

      You are so wrong, the water is the safest place, it gets cleansed by the tides and waves, the beach above the high tide only gets cleaned by volunteers and the sun breaking down seal contamination, the Lifeguard tower is not crapped upon by the seals. the city of San Diego and the state of California encourages "shared use" when they amended the trust to allow the seals to stay, If anything, the city and state are putting there citizens at risk, and if someone gets sick or injured and is proven why, It sounds like a major law suit to me….

  2. James

    As the light reported earlier (this month I believe) there are plans moving forward to build a new lifeguard station at CP. And from this report it would seem reasonable to speed up that process.

  3. Guest

    I think it is wishful thinking that the tides alone could clear the excrement of so many seals in such a small protected cove. The Children's Pool has been on the city's (and local tourist advisory site's) polluted water list for years. Can't imagine why anyone would let a small child swim there.

    • cyberKICK

      I can't find it anymore, but I did once see a couple years back that the pollution was teh same at The Children's Pool as it was at the other nearby beaches. You are right that The Children's Pool doesn't have enough flushing and washing by the tides to properly clean it. Of course I have helped clean the beach on numerous occasions. If the seals are making such a mess maybe they sholuld be kept somewhere else.

      • James

        "Kept somewhere else"? I have yet to see a seal tied up or otherwise restrained from leaving the area. While SeaWold and the city may have conspired to create a seal colony in the area at the end of the day they are wild animals and can come and go nobody is forcing them to stay.

        • cyberKICK

          True, although they are not your typical wild seals in that many of them have spent considerable time being rescued and nursed back to health by seal world (not to mention hanging out with people). All that said, if the seals are causing such health problems at The Children's Pool and other neighboring beaches, perhaps they should be shooed away. What about all the pollution caused by the sea lions at the La Jolla Cove? Should we close waters that have fish in them? The seals are attracted there by having a light on for them all night long, people are being routinely driven off the beach to make it as attractive for seals as possible. I was referring to keeping them there by making the area as attractive for them as possible.

          • James

            I've never seen anyone being "driven off the beach" I'll grant you that there have been some protester that might get a bit carried away from time to time. I'm not sure how people playing on the beach, swimming and spear fishing makes for an attempt to make the "area as attractive as possible (for seals)" but if that's what they like so be it.

          • cyberKICK

            Have you ever been there? Some the of the seal activists will scream at children with a blow horn, steal umbrellas, block the stairways, incite chanting, and throw rocks at beachgoers. How is that not being "driven off the beach"? If we did that to the seals they would be gone. If you don't believe me, go to youtube and search for "children's pool beach goer harassment log" to see for yourself.

          • James

            Yeah I have been to CP was there this evening and watched the seals climb up on the beach as the sun set. I have seen many many people using the beach on the weekends pretty much every weekend for years and fairly regularly during the week in the summer. Seal activists have no authority to remove people from the beach.

          • cyberKICK

            Yet the still do it. They are often quite successful at driving people off the beach. It takes the few who refuse to be driven away to counter the claims the seal activists make to clear the beach.

          • LJ Native

            I have seen the seal huggers clear the beach many times by all types of methods, stating they are breaking federal law for going onto the beach! yes, "breaking federal law". They have followed families to the cars and video tape there plates saying they will turn them in to the authorities, making there children cry and just making there day at the beach as unpleasant as possible by yelling at them with mega phones telling them how selfish they are.

          • James

            Impersonating a police officer or any other law enforcement official is illegal from my understanding and you should report them!

  4. Darren

    Seals have lived in the Children's Pool area for hundreds of years. On other beaches, people get drunk, litter, and cause a lot of commotion–if you remove the seals, people will make just as much of a mess(probably a lot more).

  5. SealBurgers

    The beach is clean because of all the beach cleanups. There a a bunch of pro-access beach users who regulary clean the beach, picking up after the seals and the people. What would be nice is if the city would clean this beach like it used to. Before you talk about the mess, you should actually do something about it. Why don't you join us for a beach cleanup?

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