Tijuana River

What are the health effects of Tijuana River sewage? New proposal aims to find out

The Board of Supervisors will consider the policy at its regular Tuesday meeting

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San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer Monday detailed a policy intended to get the county Health and Human Services Agency to examine health impacts of the Tijuana River sewage crisis on South Bay residents.

Along with leaders from Imperial Beach and Coronado, Lawson-Remer explained how she wants to see increased data collection beyond those coming into direct contact with polluted ocean water. Bacteria from raw sewage flowing from the watershed into the ocean can become aerosolized and impact those further inland, studies by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography suggest.

The Board of Supervisors will consider the policy at its regular Tuesday meeting.

Both California and local leaders are hoping the new policy will create change.

"Our county has been leading the fight in partnership with our local cities to clean up the Tijuana River sewage crisis, and this policy will empower our health experts to make more health data available and expand the way we respond to health threats,"  said Lawson-Remer, vice chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. "We've been demanding the state and federal government take action to protect public health and clean up local beaches and that has yielded some financial investments for improvements, and if the board approves this policy Tuesday, it reinforces our commitment to protecting our beaches, bays and coastlines."

Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre described how aerosolized bacteria, along with flooding of polluted waters, were leading to illness and long term health impacts.

"We are seeing increased reports of respiratory ailments, gastrointestinal issues, asthma, nausea, and headaches," she said. "Given the extensive pollution flowing through the Tijuana River Valley, it is critical that we fully understand the emerging public health impacts this pollution is having on South Bay communities.

"This policy will help us better understand the emerging public health threats caused by this emergency and, hopefully, accelerate broader and more substantive support from our governor and president to take action that is on par with the severity of this crisis."

What would the policy do?

According to the supervisor, the proposed policy would direct county staff to begin meeting with the a dedicated task force within 45 days and to develop coordinated strategies for mobilization, which include:

-- Launching a community health survey examining health impacts beyond direct water exposure;

-- Development of a Tijuana River Public Health Risk Dashboard;

-- Development of local decontamination protocols for sewage contaminated floodwaters;

-- Requesting ZIP-code level data from California Breathing Program;

-- Enhanced interagency communication, including with San Diego Regional Water Control Board, Air Pollution Control District, California Department of Public Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control; and

-- Pursuing additional funding to assess the impacts of the sewage crisis.

Board Chair Nora Vargas agreed to add her signature to the policy.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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