Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Nearly all the South Bay shoreline was closed Thursday, and a cleanup effort was continuing that could take up to a week to remove a petroleum-based tar-like substance that began washing ashore on Wednesday.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health initially posted closure signs from 34th Street south to Longfellow Avenue in Hermosa Beach Wednesday. The closure was later updated to include the stretch from El Segundo Jetty in the north to the Redondo Beach city limit in the south.

The agency is hoping to reopen the beaches by 6 a.m. Friday if no more tar is found in the water or on beaches, according to Manhattan Beach police, but 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 this morning to help determine the source of the substance and rescue boat crews surveying the ocean reported less debris in the ocean today, police said.

At an afternoon briefing, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Charlene Downey said “significant progress” was 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 yesterday.”

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.

Late this morning, the Manhattan Beach Police Department reported that the cleanup effort could take “up to five to seven days.”

There were 25 contract staffers at work on the cleanup and according to the county Health Department, more than 30 cubic yards of tar balls and tar patties have been collected, police said.

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. Tests were being conducted on samples of product from Chevron tanks anchored today and Wednesday and all known seeps. The results were pending.

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

Public Health officials told residents to avoid contact with the water, wet sand or any material that washed up in the area, warning that contact with oil can cause skin irritation and result in long-term health problems. Beach- goers were advised to avoid the area until the contaminated area has been cleaned.

Heal the Bay had two scientists on scene — Sikich and Jose Bacallao. They said it is too early to say if the material in Manhattan Beach might have a relationship with the oil spill on Refugio Beach near Santa Barbara. The short answer was possibly but unlikely.

An oiled loon was brought to the incident command post in Manhattan Beach today 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.

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/.

Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, issued a statement reminding people to stay away from the affected areas.

“It’s also important to note that the oil cleanup is being paid for by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, a fact which underscores the necessity of these kinds of funds,” Lieu said.

—City News Service

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