Californians vacationing at San Diego’s Imperial Beach are breathing in sea spray, aerosol particles composed from the ocean, polluted with raw sewage, new analysis unveils.
Up to three-quarters of the bacteria soaring in the air at the beach come from the aerosolization of raw sewage in the surf zone, implying swimmers and surfers are not the only ones affected.
Sewage coming from the river into the ocean has been a progressing problem for more than a decade.
The cities of Imperial Beach and Chula Vista filed a lawsuit opposing the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), alleging it dishonored the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act by failing to take steps to contain coastal sewage pollution.
A settlement was newly reached last month and IBWC agreed to elevate cooperation with Mexican water authorities to avert future sewage spills.
Scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, which is located at the University of California, San Diego, began this research by sampling coastal aerosols at Imperial Beach and water from the Tijuana River between January and May 2019.
DNA sequencing and extensive spectrometry was then harnessed to connect bacteria and chemical compounds in coastal aerosol back to the sewage-polluted Tijuana River streaming into coastal waters.
‘Aerosols from the ocean were found to contain bacteria and chemicals originating from the Tijuana River,’ according to the team.
Most of the bacteria and viruses found in tainted sea spray are harmless.
However, researchers are further investigating infectivity, exposure levels, and other factors that determine risk.
Lead author Matthew Pendergraft said in a statement: ‘This research demonstrates that coastal communities are exposed to coastal water pollution even without entering polluted waters.
‘More research is necessary to determine the level of risk posed to the public by aerosolized coastal water pollution
These findings provide further justification for prioritizing cleaning up coastal waters.’
The people of Imperial Beach have been fighting the raw sewage issue for quite some time.
The city says the beach area near the pier was closed for around 50 percent of last year and areas further South were closed for 100 percent.
Congress recently passed two bills that give around $400 million to improve water infrastructure on the US – Mexico border, Local 10 News reports.
Mexico has also pledged $144 million to fix pipes at their water treatment facilities.
Sewage from Tijuana is overwhelming the San Diego international treatment plant causing five-million gallons of partially treated sewage to flow into the coast each day.
— KUSI News (@KUSINews) March 10, 2023
Bacteria, viruses and chemicals flowing from the Tijuana River are becoming airborne and blowing inland in Imperial Beach, according to research released by UCSD.
— KUSI News (@KUSINews) March 4, 2023
A study led by Scripps scientists found sewage pollution spilling over the border from Tijuana into the San Diego region impacts more than swimmers. @kprather88 caught up with @jemersmith to share more about the study. Via @latimes. ⬇️ https://t.co/S4IpzCsNXa
— Scripps Institution of Oceanography (@Scripps_Ocean) March 12, 2023