When Kevin Post surfs near his home in Manhattan Beach, he is overwhelmed sometimes by a strong smell of diesel fumes and begins to feel sick. Post, a junior high school teacher in Redondo Beach, says the smell gets so bad that he has to forget about surfing.
Martin Byhower says swimming is good therapy for his bad back, yet he rarely swims near his home in Redondo Beach anymore. He sometimes has skin rashes and cold symptoms after swimming there, he said. When he does venture into the water, he stays far from storm drains, where he thinks the problem is worse.
Barbara Hamilton has helped start a farmers market in Los Angeles and is involved with similar markets in Redondo Beach and Torrance, where she lives. Fishermen who sell their catch at the markets, she says, complain that they have to cast their nets as far away as Santa Barbara to avoid local fish. Customers simply won't buy fish from Santa Monica Bay, she said.
Post, Byhower, Hamilton and half a dozen other people concerned about pollution in Santa Monica Bay testified this week at a workshop in Redondo Beach, the last of three such sessions held this month by the Santa Monica Bay Project. The project brings together government agencies and private groups in hopes of identifying the sources of bay pollution and ways to eliminate them.
More than 100 surfers, swimmers, fishermen, environmentalists and residents from Point Dume to the Palos Verdes Peninsula attended the workshops, which were designed to collect concerns from the public about the pollution problem. Sessions were also held in El Segundo and Santa Monica.
Next month, the testimony will be forwarded to a panel of scientists, who will look into the complaints, consolidate and summarize various studies of the bay, and prepare a symposium on their findings to be held next June.
Organizers say they hope the findings will be used by the numerous government agencies with jurisdiction over the bay to come up with a cooperative effort to clean it up. Representatives of about three dozen government agencies, legislators, environmental groups and companies serve on the project's steering committee.
"There is a lot of data that has been generated on Santa Monica Bay that is sitting on bookshelves and in scientific reports," said Joanne Freilich, manager of the project, which is being run by the Southern California Assn. of Governments with a $25,000 grant from the city of Los Angeles. "It has never been pulled together and summarized to see what we know and what we don't know, and put in terms that are understandable to the non-scientific community."
Hundreds of studies conducted by universities, private groups and government agencies have documented the pollution problem over the years. A study this year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states, for example, that marine organisms in the Palos Verdes area have the highest concentration of the carcinogen DDT on the West Coast.
Other studies have shown that waste water dumped regularly into the bay includes oil, grease, suspended solids, lead, mercury, phosphorous, cyanide and phenols. In the past, ocean dumping has included radioactive wastes, military explosives, chemical wastes and oil-drilling wastes.
But even though "the reports all indicate that the bay has unacceptable levels of pollutants," there is no consensus on what effects the pollutants have on marine and human life, according to a synopsis of the research by the project staff.
"This is the time to bring that all together," said Redondo Beach Mayor Barbara Doerr, who chaired the Redondo Beach workshop.
Testimony at the workshops focused on fears for humans and marine mammals that swim in the bay and on concerns that fish caught there are so contaminated with DDT, PCBs and other chemicals that people who eat them are endangering their their health. Speakers demanded more stringent controls on discharges from local industries and municipal and county sewer treatment plants, while others said their fears centered on the untreated runoff that is dumped into the bay from city and county storm drains.
"It worries me that the fecal matter of the dogs and cats running around in the streets is going right into the ocean," Post said. "I worry about my child playing in the sand near there."
There are more than 60 storm drains that empty into the bay, as well as five municipal and industrial waste-water points where the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board permits discharges, according to project officials.
Los Angeles's Hyperion sewage treatment facility and Scattergood power plant in Playa del Rey, the Southern California Edison power plants in El Segundo and Redondo Beach and the Chevron refinery in El Segundo all have permits to discharge wastes into the bay. The Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts also has permission to discharge treated waste water just south of the bay near White Point in San Pedro.