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New reality show: inside celebrities' septic tanks

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published October 5, 2006


MALIBU, Calif. - 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 could really hit the fan.

"This is going to get messy," said Mark Pestrella, the public works official assigned to the project.

Environmentalists and health officials suspect that 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. 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. The city of multimillion-dollar homes, strung along 25 miles of coast, has an estimated 2,400 septic tanks.

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

Under pressure from Southern California regulators, investigators over the next few months will begin testing sea water. If DNA shows the waste is human and not from, say, raccoons or coyote, they 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 people who bar them from taking samples.

Malibu leaders have argued that the pollution comes from a wastewater treatment plant, storm runoff and bird droppings.

[Last modified October 5, 2006, 01:30:58]


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