Lead Story Local News

Tar cleanup continues on South Bay beaches

MANHATTAN BEACH — South Bay beaches remained closed Friday morning as cleanup crews continued to remove tar balls that washed ashore, but Los Angeles County health officials could decide to reopen them later in the day.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health was hoping to reopen the beaches if no more tar turned up in the water or on the sand, according to Manhattan Beach police, but Coast Guard Petty Officer Michael Anderson told the Los Angeles Times that the closure, which affects nearly all South Bay beaches from El Segundo to Redondo Beach, would remain in effect at least until noon Friday.

The environmental group Heal the Bay warned that the beaches should not be reopened “until all the oil is cleaned up.”

“Heal the Bay has concerns about opening the beaches and even allowing people on the sand between the lifeguard towers and the water,” said Sarah Sikich, one of two scientists the group deployed to the scene.

“It’s nearly impossible to walk along the beach in that area without encountering a small oil glob, and from a human health perspective, exposure through skin contact is a concern.”

Sikich also warned that children could put contaminated sand in their mouths and that blobs had been found outside the closure area in Playa del Rey.

Crews began conducting flyovers in the area Thursday morning to try to determine the source of the substance.

At an afternoon briefing, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Charlene Downey said Thursday that “significant progress” had been made overnight in the cleanup effort.

“Our teams have worked … on the ground and in the air and on the water, [and] have reported that there appears to be no new tar balls or anything additional to the amount that we have recovered thus far,” Downey said.

“Our air crew did observe a sheen off the South Bay, which from what we understand is typical for that area,” Downey said. “But what we believe to be pretty good news is that it doesn’t appear to be any in the surf, the surf line, [like] we saw [Wednesday].”

An oiled loon was brought to the incident command post in Manhattan Beach Thursday and was in stable condition under the care of the Oiled Wildlife Care Network, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. It was unclear where the bird was found and how it became oiled. There has been no other indication, however, that wildlife has been harmed.

Authorities released a telephone number — (877) 623-6926 — that people should call to report the location of any wildlife found to be in distress from the effects of the substance.

Officials warned the public not to go into the ocean, or to use the beaches “from the lifeguard towers to the waterline.” The beaches from the lifeguard towers to the inland side were OK for the public to use, however, officials said.

The Manhattan Beach Police Department originally said the cleanup effort could take “up to five to seven days.”

The unknown substance began hitting the beach about 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to the county. The U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies collected samples of the material and were trying to identify the substance and its source. Results were pending.

A company known as Ocean Blue Environmental was hired to clean up the mess.

Recorded information on beach conditions is available 24 hours a day on the county’s beach advisory hotline by calling (800) 525-5662 or online at http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/beach/.