Ah California Beach. Roaring surf. Golden sunsets. And the sweet smell of Mexican sewage.
Here’s what’s happening in South Imperial Beach, according to a study by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.
Raw sewage flows along the Tijuana River in Mexico and flows into the Pacific Ocean for years. There is a lot of it.
According to the website InterestingEngineering, 13 billion gallons of sewage-contaminated water flowed from the river into the Pacific Ocean since December.
“This influx of polluted water has caused chronic coastal water pollution in Imperial Beach for decades. New research shows that sewage-polluted coastal water transfers sea spray aerosol into the atmosphere from breaking waves and bursting bubbles,” Scripps said in a release.
“Sea spray aerosol contains bacteria, viruses and chemical compounds from seawater,” the Scripps release continued.
“This research shows that coastal communities are exposed to coastal water pollution without entering contaminated water,” said Matthew Pendergraft, lead author of the study.
“Further research is needed to determine the level of risk to the public from aerosolized coastal water pollution. These findings provide further justification for prioritizing coastal water cleanup,” he said.
Research shows that the impact of pollution is more widespread than anyone thought, according to a researcher.
“We showed that three-quarters of the bacteria you breathe in at Imperial Beach is coming from aerosolization of raw sewage in the surf zone,” said lead researcher Kim Prather.
“Coastal water pollution has traditionally been considered just a water body problem. People worry about swimming and surfing in it but not about breathing it in. Aerosols can travel long distances and expose more people than if they were on the beach or in the water,” Prather said.
After determining that the sea spray contained bacteria and chemicals from the Tijuana River, the next step in the research was to determine which pathogens were dangerous to anyone breathing the sea air.
“The bottom line is we don’t know what kind of effect breathing in this kind of cocktail coming out of the ocean has. We want to understand. We’re doing the next work. We’re really ramping up to understand the conditions that lead to this aerosolization,” Prather said, according to KNSD.
“It’s not just a problem in Imperial Beach, it goes up and down the West Coast,” Prather said.
Prather said researchers will swab lifeguards, surfers and others to determine how much respiratory exposure they have experienced, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“The bottom line is, we still don’t know what the effects of breathing this cocktail coming out of the ocean are. This is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“It was a complete shock to find out how many microbes in the air can get back into the sewage,” said Robert Knight, professor of pediatrics, computer science and engineering at UC San Diego. We had no idea the effect would be so strong.
“Now that we know this is a real phenomenon, we need to find out what the effects are on human health,” he said.
This article was originally published in The Western Journal.