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Spill Fouls Part of Bay in Newport

Crews avert pollution from jet fuel accident, but sewer line overflow hits Harbor Marina later.


Quick-acting crews dammed a jet fuel spill over the weekend before it could contaminate Newport Bay, but a sewage spill closed part of the bay Monday.

The water near Harbor Marina is off-limits to swimmers and divers because of a 105-gallon spill that occurred late Sunday night and was reported to county health officials Monday morning.

The untreated human waste came from a clogged line near a convalescent hospital, though officials have not yet determined who owns the line. It was the 36th sewage spill in the county this year that made ocean waters unsafe for contact, a record-breaking number, and the seventh time Newport Bay was tainted by such a spill.

On Saturday an Irvine aerospace firm with a history of environmental woes spilled up to 400 gallons of jet fuel into a storm drain that flows into a tributary of Upper Newport Bay. But company emergency crews at Parker Hannifin Corp. dammed the spill before it could enter San Diego Creek.

Joined by hazardous waste specialists and Orange County Fire Authority crews Monday, they used fuel-absorbing blankets and vacuum trucks to ensure that the fuel didn't reach the bay, said company spokeswoman Cheryl Flohr.

The efforts drew activists' praise.

"This is a great example of how [hazardous spills] should be handled," said Bob Caustin, founder of Defend the Bay. "They had somebody on-site who could solve the problem before it became devastating. They rose to the occasion."

The spill occurred after a fuel and water separator overflowed. Jet fuel poured into a 30-inch pipe near Jamboree Road and the San Diego Freeway. It flowed into a storm drain that leads to a drainage ditch that then dumps into San Diego Creek, said Ken Fletcher, a U.S. Coast Guard petty officer.

However, Caustin said, both incidents point to the need for heightened attention to pollution in the beleaguered bay, parts of which have been off-limits to swimming and shellfish harvesting since 1974.

"These are two incidents . . . that we heard about," he said. "How many more contribute to the toxicity in Newport Bay?"

Although no environmental damage was observed or reported, the state Department of Fish and Game is investigating. Attempts to reach officials with the agency were unsuccessful Monday.

Cleveland-based Parker Hannifin, an aerospace firm that is the world's largest maker of hydraulic equipment, has a checkered environmental past at its aerospace headquarters in Irvine.

The Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, a state agency based in Riverside, is overseeing cleanup of ground water pollution under the plant caused by leaking underground solvent storage tanks, said Kurt Berchtold, the board's assistant executive officer. The contamination does not threaten drinking water supplies.

The 42-acre site, once heralded as the next high-tech hub in Orange County, was recently sold to Home Depot for a design center, and possibly other stores or offices.

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