The calculation is based on lost wages and medical care to treat more than 74,000 incidents of stomach illness, respiratory disease and eye, ear and skin infections caused by exposure to the polluted waters in a typical year.
"This estimate helps us begin to understand the bigger picture of the economic burden imposed on society from polluting our coastal recreational waters," explained Linda Fernandez, economist at the University of California and co-author of the study.
It is the first study to estimate the economic impact of illnesses associated with polluted recreational waters, although similar calculations have been done regarding air pollution. A public health cost assessment like this can be a useful tool for officials evaluating the cost-benefit of projects to treat sewage and urban runoff headed for local beaches.
"The ultimate value of this research is for policymakers, who are well aware of the substantial costs involved with cleaning up water pollution, but need to know the other side of the equation - the costs associated with not cleaning up the water," said UC Irvine's Ryan Dwight, a researcher in environmental health, science and policy, and lead author of the study.
This is the latest in a series of published studies by Dwight showing that urban runoff is the primary source of coastal water pollution in this area, and that surfers frequenting polluted urban coastal waters get sick more often than surfers in rural areas.
The estimated cost, which the researchers describe as conservative, includes lost income based on typical Orange County salaries and medical expenses based on doctors' fees, and assumes that the illnesses take on various levels of severity. Additional costs for self-treatment and potential costs to the local tourism industry, the health care system and society at large are not included in the valuation.
MEDICA.de; Source: University of California, Riverside