Last Tuesday, a broken sewer line spilled over two million gallons of waste into the Los Angeles River, providing a nasty surprise for downstream residents in Long Beach and Seal Beach.
Officials say the pipe began leaking on Monday during the mid-afternoon hours. Immediate repairs were underway and the leak was eventually stopped, but renovations were short-lived as the pipe endured a second burst less than 24 hours later. Most of the overflow was collected and contained by sanitation crews, but the river managed to carry enough into the nearby Pacific to prompt beach closures in both areas.
Assistant director of Los Angeles Sanitation Adel Hagekhalil explains that the pipe was built in 1929, and was likely too old to handle any “excess baggage.”
“This happening is just a part of the maintenance system,” he says. “Something grows old, you have to repair it or replace it.”
Sanitation workers installed a permanent bypass system that diverted the flow of waste, which was posing serious health risks to the public. Left uncontained, sewage bacteria is known to cause eye, ear and throat infections among other problems. Public swimming pools were also closed, and residents were warned to stay away from puddles near the spill.
“It’s a lot of sewage to consider,” says Nelson Kerr, manager of the city’s Bureau of Environmental Health. “This is a fairly large spill… There’s obviously extremely high levels of bacteria. There could be viruses.”
The overflow took place near 6th Street and Mission Road in the region of Boyle Heights. The good news is that the spill has been stopped, and water samples from Long Beach have come back negative for pollution. Seal Beach remains closed to visitors, however, and Orange County health officials say they need at least two consecutive days of clean water samples before reopening the beaches. Several tourists traveling for a day of fun in the sun ultimately left dissatisfied after being put off by the many warning signs and lifeguards.
“Just pure disappointment,” says Francisco Aleman of Lake Elsinore. “My little sister, she wanted to come to the beach forever, the whole summer… She gets here and it’s like, you can’t get in, so what’s the point, you know?”
Thus far, there have been no reports of waste on the beaches themselves. If all goes well, the waters will be available for swimming, surfing and diving by Thursday morning.
Nearby streets are also being monitored. As of late, areas affected include Mission Road and Clarence Street between Fifth and Jesse.
“The streets and sidewalks within those boundaries, as well as the impacted storm drains and channels to the Los Angeles River, are being pressure-washed,” says the Department of Public Works.
This is not the first time the city has fallen victim to sewage runs. In 1998, El Niño storms caused waste water overflow in nearly 50 county locations. Millions of gallons were dumped into the Santa Monica Bay and throughout various neighborhoods in Los Angeles.