Officials Reopen Beach Shut in Spill of PCB-Laced Oil

Times Staff Writer

Officials reopened a four-mile stretch of beach near the mouth of the Los Angeles River in Long Beach Wednesday when they determined public safety was not threatened by 2,000 gallons of PCB-laced oil that spilled into the river after a fire Tuesday in a utility station in downtown Los Angeles.

The beaches and waterways were reopened about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday once tests revealed only trace amounts of PCBs were found in the river channel. Department of Water and Power officials said they believed most of the oil was contained by cleanup crews before it reached Long Beach Harbor.

The oil that entered the river through a drainage channel contained about 35 parts per million of PCBs. A DWP spokesman said the concentration was well below the federal standard of 50 parts per million at which the substance becomes hazardous.


PCB Readings Given

Tests by a cleanup firm hired by the DWP showed amounts of PCBs of less than 0.2 parts per million in three samples taken near Willow and Anaheim streets in Long Beach, said DWP spokesman Marc Haefele.

He said closing the beach was an “overreaction.” But Long Beach officials said they closed the beaches Tuesday evening as a precaution until they received definitive test results.

PCB, polychlorinated biphenyls, is a carcinogenic substance that has been shown to cause gastric disorders, skin lesions and cancerous tumors in laboratory animals, said Terry Wilson, spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency regional office in San Francisco.

The oil is used as a coolant in transformers. It was swept into storm drains after the fire early Tuesday at the utility station that caused a power outage for 37,000 electrical customers, including much of the downtown business district.

No Hazardous Incident

The DWP said that since the oil was within the 50 ppm standard for PCBs, the spill was not treated as a hazardous material incident, according to a spokesman.

The Long Beach Fire Department was notified about the spill about 4 p.m. Tuesday, 14 hours after the fire erupted, said spokesman Robert A. Caldon.


Four miles of beach and two miles of inland waterways were closed to bathers and sport fishermen beginning about 6 p.m. Tuesday, said Long Beach lifeguard Capt. Randall Davis. Signs were posted and lifeguards warned anyone approaching the water to stay clear.

“We find out that people don’t read signs,” said lifeguard Brad Britton as he surveyed the beach south of the downtown Marina. “I thought we’d get some irate people, but none yet.”

Davis said the city’s three boat ramps were also closed, water skiers were kept out of Marine Stadium and fishermen were not allowed to fish off the Belmont Pier or any breakwaters. The effort was aided by cooler temperatures that kept the crowds off beaches.

DWP hired a private firm to place booms at the 7th Street outfall pipe in downtown Los Angeles and at Willow and Anaheim streets in Long Beach. Most of the oil was captured and vacuumed up at the first boom, leaving only a slight residue at Willow Street booms and clear water at Anaheim Street, a spokesman said.