Healing San Pedro Bay

Fork in Soup

Santa Monica Bay pollution may make the headlines, but the pollution in San Pedro Bay is a lot worse.  Last week the Regional Water Quality Control Board made an attempt to heal our other local bay by passing the most comprehensive and complicated Total Maximum Daily Load in California history.  (TMDLs are water body-specific pollutant limits.) The TMDL covered 79 different impairments of  Dominguez Channel and the Greater Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbor (San Pedro Bay) waters and contaminants, including heavy metals like mercury, lead and copper, DDT, PCBs, toxicity and petroleum hydrocarbons.

The bottom line is that there are now five species of fish in the Bay that the state recommends you avoid eating and another 11 that you shouldn’t eat more than once a week.  Also, there are numerous toxic hotpots and the benthic ecology (bottom-dwelling animals) at some of those locations is highly degraded.

Although this TMDL was one of the most important in the entire Consent Decree between the environmental community and the EPA, it was delayed until 2011 because of its complexity and the number of industrial heavy hitters that are regulated by the action, including such players as the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, numerous oil companies, the Montrose Chemical Co. (the folks who brought us DDT), and numerous upstream cities with intense industrial use. Perhaps the biggest reason for the lateness of the TMDL was the complex and time-consuming modeling (five years in the making) of San Pedro Bay and the Dominguez Channel required to develop the regulation.

The Regional Board voted 5-0 to approve the staff recommended TMDL over strong opposition from Montrose and the Coalition for Practical Regulation cities. Montrose and the CPR cities opposed the TMDL because of cost concerns, and they actually claimed that they shouldn’t have to pay for the Dominguez Channel and San Pedro Bay cleanup because they already had to pay millions of dollars under the Superfund and Natural Resources damages lawsuit in the 1990s. In other words, “Let the locals eat toxic fish!”

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