First Rain Brings Pollution, Toxins to Los Angeles Waters
September 21, 2007
Heal the Bay today issued a health advisory to Southland residents and visitors to avoid water contact at Los Angeles County beaches for 72 hours, following the area's first significant rainfall after a record drought period.
The county's 5,000-mile storm drain system is designed to channel rainwater to the ocean to prevent local flooding. But it also has the unintended function of moving pollution directly into the Santa Monica and San Pedro bays. After heavy rains, more than 70 major outfalls spew manmade debris, animal waste, pesticides, automotive fluids and human-gastrointestinal viruses into the marine ecosystem.
This pollution poses human health risks, kills marine life and dampens the tourist economy. The so-called first flush is especially worrisome this year, which is the driest in 130 years. Debris and toxins have been accumulating for months on sidewalks, roadways and riverbeds and are now being washed into the storm drains. Exposure to this runoff can cause a variety of illnesses, most frequently stomach flu.
During dry months, Heal the Bay and county health officials urge swimmers to stay 100 yards from flowing storm drains, which have been shown to have elevated levels of known carcinogens and pathogens. Experts agree after a major rainfall that local beachgoers should stay out of the water entirely for at least 72 hours.
"The first heavy rain of the season is a real eye opener about the extent of marine-bound debris in our storm drains," said Karin Hall, executive director of Heal the Bay. "That's why we're working so hard to address the root causes of this kind of pollution."
County storm drains typically handle 100 million gallons of contaminated water and debris each day, but one rainstorm in Los Angeles County can generate nearly 10 billion gallons of water. Sewage treatment plants, which process storm-drain runoff from major pipes in dry months, simply can't handle the excess load during major storms.
Local residents contribute to debris buildup by dropping nearly 1 million cigarette butts on the ground each month, according to L.A. County Department of Public Works estimates. Citizens walk a dog without picking up the droppings more than 82,000 times per month, and they hose off driveways and sidewalks into storm drains more than 415,000 times each month.
During the rainy season, Heal the Bay reminds residents that they can take steps in their own home to take pressure off an already taxed storm drain system. Among them: keep trash out of gutters and storm drains, dispose of animal waste and automotive fluids properly, and avoid overwatering lawns and plants. (Visit www.healthebay.org/waystoheal for more tips.)
Heal the Bay is a non-profit environmental group dedicated to making California coastal waters, including the Santa Monica Bay, safe and healthy for people and marine life. On Sept. 15, the organization last week mobilized 11,000 volunteers who removed 80,000 pounds of ocean-bound debris from county waterways as part of California Coastal Cleanup Day.Photos taken by Heal the Bay on Friday, September 21, 2007