Coast Guard, state agencies probe environmental impacts of Mission Hospital diesel spill

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Sand near the storm drain outflow at Totuava Beach was contaminated by the May 7 diesel spill at Mission Hospital Laguna Beach. Photo courtesy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

The site of a diesel spill at Totuava Beach in South Laguna was still being monitored by federal and state officials on Thursday.

The U.S. Coast Guard has assumed the lead role in probing the environmental impacts of the spill with assistance from the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board.

“The next phase of the clean-up will address the diesel fuel below the sand,” Coast Guard spokesperson Mark Barney wrote in an email Thursday.

An updated estimate of the number of gallons of diesel spill was not available.

Clean-up crews contracted by Mission Hospital have been testing sand beneath Totuava Beach for contamination. Results from these initial tests were slated to be discussed Thursday afternoon during a meeting of representatives from involved public agencies, Barney said.

So far, state officials have not observed any significant impacts to marine wildlife, said Mark Fricke, a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, said in a phone interview Thursday.

Public access to Thousand Steps and Totuava beaches was dashed again last week after about 2,300 gallons of diesel fuel spilled into the storm drain from an emergency generator’s storage tank at the hospital.

Laguna Beach Fire Chief Mark Garcia said in a phone interview Friday that about 300 gallons contaminated the sand after being discharged from the storm drain system. As part of its normal operations, Mission Hospital regularly checks that its emergency electricity generator correctly functions. During these tests, the generator’s fuel tank is depleted and needs to be refilled by a second storage tank on site.

That system failed at some point in the early morning of May 7, Garcia said.

A hospital security guard first noticed the spill at the hospital during a routine patrol around 3:30 a.m. Laguna Beach emergency dispatch received a call for assistance around 4 a.m., prompting a response by Laguna Beach firefighters and lifeguards.

“This is an unfortunate accident with the spill of fuel but we were pretty lucky,” he said. “We were able to stop most of the fuel from getting to the ocean.”

The malfunction was quickly repaired, generator power was restored, and there was no power loss to the hospital at any time, Mission Hospital spokesperson Carrie Miller wrote in an email.

“We began clean-up efforts right away and expect everything will be restored by Friday afternoon,” Miller wrote. “Like everyone in Laguna Beach, we treasure our coastline and are committed to a thorough cleanup.”

Because of the lack of vehicle access to Thousand Steps Beach, workers are filling drums with contaminated sand by hand and then transporting those containers onto vessels waiting off-shore, said Mary Fricke, a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The filled drums will be shipped back to the Port of Los Angeles for disposal.

On May 8, So Cal Ship Services’ pollution control vessel Kenneth Carl was moored off of South Laguna to assist with the cleanup, according to MarineTraffic.com

The spill response company contracted by Mission Hospital also helped clean-up the hospital campus and impacted storm drains, Garcia said.

The incident reportedly initiated responses from multiple other agencies, including Laguna Beach Water Quality Department, OC Parks, and OC Health Care Agency.

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1 COMMENT

  1. I am surprised that this has received such little attention. Its really pretty outrageous of all places like Laguna Beach that we have a Gasoline spill right into the ocean. How does the hospital not have alarms or have upgrades so that there are way to halt such a disaster, and that is what it is. We are so concerned in this town with the ecology but no one is saying anything. Thank you for writing about it, hope to see an update.

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