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Ballona Runneth Over:

Los Angeles County health officials closed two miles of Santa Monica Bay beaches from the extension of Ironsides St. in Marina del Rey on the north to the extension of Sandpiper St. at Dockweiler Beach on the south early Tuesday afternoon, August 8. As of early afternoon on Wednesday, August 9, the closure was to remain in effect until test results indicate that bacteria levels meet health safety standards, estimated to be sometime late that afternoon or early evening, according to Acting Chief Environmental Health Specialist Eric Edwards, although he said the closure could continue to Thursday morning.

The closure was ordered after an estimated 20,000 gallons of raw sewage spilled into Ballona Creek and then into the ocean as a result of equipment failure at an underground pump station at Sawtelle Blvd. and Braddock Dr. in Culver City. One of the station’s three pumps went down on Sunday, August 6, eventually resulting in sewage backing up into the streets in the very early hours of Tuesday morning, August 8, and then through storm drains to Ballona Creek.

“Due to the contamination from this spill residents should avoid contact with the ocean water at these [closure] locations until the beach has been reopened,” said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Acting Director of Public Health and County Health Officer.

The County Department of Public Health reports that it did not learn of the spill until after noon on Tuesday even though the sewage flow into Ballona Creek had apparently been halted by about 4:00 that morning. Edwards notified lifeguards to post beach closure notices within minutes of Public Health’s notification.

Edwards told the Mirror that the large volume of water in Ballona Creek would have diluted the sewage spill before it reached the ocean such that people in the water before the beach closure were hopefully unharmed. The Los Angeles Times quoted Dr. Fielding as saying, “I don’t think people need to be terribly concerned about this,” but added that some swimmers who were in the water a long time might experience a mild gastroenteritis or a mild skin infection, especially if they swam south of the channel, since swells move southward; swimmers with symptoms should seek medical help, he said.

Laboratory results on the original samples taken in Santa Monica Bay after the County first learned of the sewage spill were not due to be known until Wednesday afternoon, and so the severity of any contamination was not yet known at press time.

Edwards said that beach closures were automatically ordered whenever it was known that raw sewage had hit ocean waters; such events are rare, he said. Beach warnings, on the other hand, are posted whenever bacteria levels exceed predetermined safe standards, and the decision to swim in the ocean is left to the public; hundreds of such warnings are posted each year, Edwards noted. The County had issued such a warning, for example, for the stretch of Santa Monica beach from the Pier to 100 yards downcoast on Wednesday, August 9, wholly unrelated to the Ballona Creek incident.

Further information may be available from the County beach closure hotline, 800.525.5662, or at www.lapublichealth.org/ beach.

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