Pacific beachgoers have had to contend with crud, tar balls, sharks and wildlife-killing plastic debris, but they have not had to face the rats and syringes that have been washing up on beaches in the East.

"We haven't had any trace of medical waste dumping. We have had none of that, zero, since I have been chief the past 12 years," said Ralph Lopez, deputy of environmental health and health facilities for the Los Angeles County Department of Health."The only beach pollution trouble we have is if we have a breakdown in a power system or storm damage," he said.

In densely populated California, millions of gallons of untreated effluent have spilled into the sea in the past two years because of equipment failures or rain-caused overflows at treatment plants.

Such accidents add to the hot debate over waste disposal, but actual beach closures have been rare.

A section of Laguna Beach in Orange County was closed for most of last week when a pump broke, dumping 36,000 gallons of untreated liquid waste. It was the latest in a series of spills, including some last year from a sewage plant in Mexico that forced the shutdown of miles of San Diego beaches.

Further north, Santa Barbara County contends with tar and oil from offshore wells and natural seepage. But recent years have seen nothing like the spills of the 1960s that killed hundreds of fish and birds.

"You can see the oil slick come in, a big long line of black oil and tar," said Mark Bray, a lifeguard supervisor for the state.

Hundreds of miles to the north, heavy rains cause untreated sewage to spill at Ocean Beach in San Francisco about a dozen times a year, and signs are posted warning against gathering shellfish, which may have ingested bacteria.

Meanwhile, the shark population is rising because of increasing populations of protected sea lions and seals. Several fins have been spotted recently, although no attacks were reported.

A more persistent problem in the north is debris washing up - including several barrels of toxic chemicals several years ago - and litter left by visitors.

Scenic Hawaii gets garbage dumped from large fishing boats, but the islands' isolation and strong sea currents help protect its beaches, according to Paul Aki, director of the state Health Department's pollution control branch.