Forget Sharks—in L.A., Beachgoers Better Watch Out for Tampons and Condoms

A deluge of raw sewage on the Southern California coast has closed nearly six miles of shore.

Dockweiler State Beach in Los Angeles is closed owing to the deluge of tampons, condoms, and hypodermic needles that washed ashore this week. (Photo: Healthbay/Instagram)

Sep 25, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

With the start of fall, most of the United States is starting to cool down. And then there’s Los Angeles, where 90-degree temperatures are still roasting residents. Despite the heat, plenty of people in the City of Angels are putting the kibosh on plans to head to the beach, thanks to the more than 200 pounds of plastic waste, including tampon applicators, condoms, and hypodermic needles, that washed ashore this week.

Tonya Durrell, a spokesperson for Los Angeles County, said the debris “does not pose a threat to the public,” reported the Los Angeles Times. But health officials have shuttered a roughly six-mile stretch of sand from Dockweiler State Beach, which is just south of Venice Beach, to Manhattan Beach.

Cleanup crews have been busy picking up the trash, but as items continue to wash ashore, there’s always the potential that a beachgoer gazing out at the waves will step on a used needle. The water has also tested high for bacteria that could make swimmers sick.

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“We believe that people should avoid any stretch of beach where multiple needles and other sewage-related items have been reported in the sand until beaches are officially opened again,” environmental conservation group Heal the Bay wrote in a post on its blog on Thursday night.

The incident is thought to be the result of a combination of heavy rains in Los Angeles last week and maintenance on a pipe run by the city’s sanitation department, which normally dumps treated sewage into the Pacific Ocean five miles out. With that pipe out of commission, officials at the Hyperion Treatment Plant, the city’s 121-year-old sewage treatment facility, began using a pipe that ended just one mile from shore.

After more than an inch of rain soaked the area, more debris was flushed out into the ocean. “When it rains heavily, much larger volumes of water than normal move through the treatment system, and capture systems can be overwhelmed,” wrote Heal the Bay. Ocean currents brought the waste material—those items that weren’t eaten by marine life—back to shore.

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The appearance of the garbage also reveals that residents are flushing plastic items that they shouldn’t be. “Treatment plants are primarily designed to handle biodegradable solids, not plastic waste flushed down toilets by careless people. Usually, these personal items are filtered in the beginning of the treatment process, but all bets are off when heavy flows come into the plant,” wrote Heal the Bay.

Although the amount of debris washing ashore is tapering off, city and county officials haven’t yet announced a time line for reopening the beaches.