County Seeks Role in Sewage Cleanup

Times Staff Writer

Under pressure from newly elected county Supervisor Brian Bilbray, the San Diego County Department of Health Services proposed in a report released Thursday that San Diego County become the lead agency in devising a plan to end the flow of sewage into the United States from Mexico.

The report also said that it is reasonable to assume that some cases of disease have been caused by the sewage--even though county health officials have yet to link a single case of illness directly to the spillage.

"It is highly likely . . . that because of the long-term nature of the pollution, disease has occurred whether or not it has been recognized," the report said. "The longer the pollution goes unchecked, the greater the chance of disease being documented."

Samples taken from the sewage have revealed salmonella and non-epidemic cholera as well as other bacteria and viruses that are known to cause disease when ingested by humans, the report said.

Sewage in amounts as high as 5 million gallons a day has long flowed across the border from Tijuana's outdated sewer system, and much of it is routinely pumped to a San Diego treatment facility. The problem was worsened in December, when Mexican workers damaged two steel sewer mains, sending effluent north and contaminating ocean water off Imperial Beach to levels 24 times greater than normal.

Prepared by Health Services Director Donald G. Ramras and Assistant Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen at Bilbray's request, the county report proposed that the Board of Supervisors approve the assignment of a special staff member to coordinate plans for ending the sewage problem.

Bilbray, the former mayor of Imperial Beach, said he was just as impressed with the report's suggestion that the county try to provide the leadership necessary to solve the complex problem that until now has been mainly the purview of the City of San Diego and the federal government.

"This is not just a city problem," he said. "It's a regional problem, an international problem."

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