Hyperion Treatment Plant officials queried over medical waste spill along South Bay beaches

By Nereida Moreno, Daily Breeze

As an investigation continues into September’s massive sewage spill off the South Bay coast, Hyperion Treatment Plant officials Thursday fielded questions from community members and environmentalists concerned that it could happen again.

Public health officials believe Hyperion, the city of Los Angeles’ oldest and largest operating waste-water treatment plant, is responsible for the spill that spewed medical debris such as hypodermic needles, condoms and tampon applicators into the ocean and eventually ashore on Sept. 23.

At a meeting of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, Heal the Bay spokesman James Alamillo said more than 1,500 people have signed a petition since Wednesday morning, demanding a concrete action plan to stop Hyperion from discharging further sewage-related trash onto shorelines.

“We can be more active in looking at beach closures; it’s going to take all of us to solve this problem,” said Sam Unger, the water board’s executive director. “I’m just happy to report that the city has been so forthcoming — they don’t know yet what happened but we will continue investigating and get answers. It just won’t be tomorrow.”

THE SPILL

More than 200 pounds of debris was collected from the beaches and waters in the area during a four-day September beach closure.

County health officials believe the discharged waste came from the Hyperion, which was undergoing repairs on its main sewage outfall pipe that ran continuously for more than 54 years. Treated wastewater eventually makes its way to the ocean via the pipe, which runs five miles out at the southern end of Dockweiler Beach.

But wastewater was diverted to an emergency outfall in September, just one mile from beaches, during scheduled repairs that will continue through Nov. 2 on the main outfall pipe.

The need for repairs was discovered nearly 10 years ago, during a 48-hour inspection in 2006. Officials said ongoing repairs will buy the county at least 50 years of safe usage.

Despite concerns about heavy rainfall associated with an upcoming El Nino weather pattern, the city of Los Angeles will continue to discharge the wastewater through the one-mile emergency pipeline. Hyperion officials said the rains are not a concern, but that they have taken precautionary measures to prevent spillage, including regular pipe inspections and netting to catch debris in the one-mile outfall and Imperial Highway storm drains.

THE INVESTIGATION PROCEEDS

Traci Minamide, chief operating officer of L.A. Sanitation, said the situation appears to be stabilized, but investigators are working to determine the exact cause of the spillage.

“Despite our best-laid plans, things have not gone as expected,” Minamide said.

She said her team has “all hands on deck” as they continue ocean monitoring and clean-up efforts to find the potential source.

Despite calls from environmental groups to penalize Hyperion for the spillage, water board officials said they will determine a course of action once the investigative report is presented in January.

“We can’t make changes in the plant because we don’t know what the exact cause of the (spillage) is yet,” Unger said. “At this point, I think it’s fair to say the city, environmental groups and board members share the same concerns.”

Several board members suggested bringing in experts from the outside to investigate the sewage plant, which is situated on a sliver of Los Angeles city land just west of El Segundo.

“This is a big facility and it’s in a sensitive area, and I don’t think we can afford to be wrong again,” said Madelyn Glickfeld, assistant director for outreach and strategic initiatives at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

“I want a detailed chronology of the first moment you knew there was a problem so we can work with (different agencies) and accelerate the process for notification of beach closures.”

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