Nicole Capretz, the senior policy advisor for Councilwoman Frye, responded to Ehrenfreund's e-mail. "There is nothing we can do about the decision of the company to hold its race even when the Bay is posted for contamination. Due to the variable nature of water quality, it is the responsibility of the users of the water to determine when and when not to hold water-related events. It is the responsibility of the City to monitor the waters and post when there is contamination." Since even before Ehrenfreund began her crusade, one of the Tri Club's sponsors, Penta Water, had agreed to contribute its water-testing facility (Bio-Hydration Research Lab) free of charge. And one of the club's members, Barbara Javor, is a microbiologist. "Good tidal flow every day equals clean water," said Javor. "Mission Bay Triathlon, near Ski Beach in October, is in relatively clean water. But tidal energy is extremely low in the backwaters, and that's where the Spring Sprint -- and one of the fall triathlons, I think -- takes place every year. Not to mention, there seems to be high levels of dangerous materials in the sediment near South Shores. One problem is that there's no prescribed method for testing sediment yet; you know, is it area or volume? What's the amount? In the sediment, all you can tell is whether it's there or not, but you can't tell if it's dangerous."
Ehrenfreund said her great hope now is to raise awareness so that people will report it if they get sick from swimming in Mission Bay. Surfrider Foundation's website (www.surfridersd.org) offers a questionnaire for those who think they got sick from swimming. The Department of Environmental Health (www.sdcounty.ca.gov/deh) is also tracking water-related illness. And there were six tents set up around Mission Bay all summer where biology students from UC Berkeley offered forms to be filled out by bay swimmers.
"It just seems that a lot more people are getting sick than we know about," said Ehrenfreund. "I mean, I personally know five or six triathletes who've gotten sick after races. Some of them more than once. And these are great athletes, who basically devote their lives to their training and racing. So it makes you think that there must be more people out there, but they don't know where to go with their information or what to do about it."
There's also the issue about whether there's a problem with the water at all. Which is part of the trouble when it comes to asking the city to allocate money for cleanup. How can anyone be sure if it's the water that's making these people sick?
Rescheduling the races could be a short-term solution, although TCSD president Jim McCann explained to me why it's so much more difficult to sponsor a race in the ocean than it is in the backwaters of Mission Bay. "Permits. You have so many crossed jurisdictions for beaches and roads near beaches and waters in the ocean, it would cost race organizers a bundle. Not to mention the extra lifeguards and safety issues. So you can have a bunch of races inland for the same cost as, like, one race out in the ocean."
Inland water is one thing, and though much of the western part of Mission Bay seems relatively clean, why is anyone allowed to swim, much less hold races on top of, an old, uncontained toxic-waste dump?