Long Beach Shoreline Reopens After Tar Ball Cleanup

(FOX 11 / CNS) A four-mile stretch of beach in Long Beach that was closed after tar balls washed ashore on Wednesday afternoon was reopened this morning, authorities said.

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The beach was closed about 4 p.m. Wednesday from First Place to 72nd Place, Long Beach Fire Department spokesman Jake Heflin said. The beach was reopened about 8 a.m. today, Heflin said.

"The Long Beach Fire Department asks that residents and visitors be mindful of the events over the last few days, and take extra precaution when walking on the beach or swimming in local waters," Heflin said.

Crews cleaned up the "unidentified petroleum-based product" and collected samples that are being tested, Heflin said. The origin of the substance has not been determined, he said.

Anyone seeing oil debris should report the information directly to the National Response Center hotline, (800) 424-8802, officials said.

Heflin said on Thursday that a pelican was found saturated with oil and was cared for by animal control workers. A sea lion was seen on a breakwater in the ocean, possibly contaminated by oil, but it swam away.

Authorities were working to determine if the tar balls are related to the oil spill north of Santa Barbara May 19. There is no indication the incident is related to any Long Beach Gas and Oil operations, Heflin said.

Meanwhile, officials in Seal Beach, located just south of Long Beach, said Thursday that tar balls were spotted on the shoreline near Neptune Avenue and Anderson Street, but no beach closures were ordered.

The tar balls washing ashore in Long Beach came two days after large globs of tar washed ashore in Zuma Beach. Nearly all beaches from El Segundo to Redondo Beach were closed from May 27 to May 29 because tar balls washed ashore. The source of the globs has not been identified.

From Hal Eisner:

Gooey Yucky Tar Balls and Grunion
The surprise appearance of tar balls on our beaches from Manhattan Beach (last week) to Long Beach and even Seal Beach this week has officials scratching their heads. But, those concerned about marine life are worried about what we know as the annual grunion run.

Tonight, Thursday, is the 3rd night of the first big grunion run of June and it's coinciding with these incidents of tar balls washing up on shore. And, whether it is a natural phenomenon or not it has people talking and worrying about what we might call the great tarball mystery. Gooey, tarry balls and patties of petroleum junk that, in recent days, have been popping up on our beaches. Where's it from? Jake Heflin with the Long Beach Fire Department says "I think that's the million dollar question so to speak. What we're trying to do is determine if this is a naturally occurring source... .or something else? But, whatever it is it's showing up in quantities not seen before. And, while that's a big concern about birds and sea life, this is happening at a time that couldn't be worse for grunion that are spawning this week. The little silvery fish are washed onto the beach by high tide. They leave their eggs in the sand and then a couple of weeks later the eggs are washed back out in a high tide, they crack open and spring new life.

Pepperdine University's Karen Martin says the tar bars are dangerous for the living grunion because their gills are used for breathing and filtering what plankton they eat. Essentially, petroleum products are like poison to them.

Martin says she even had conversations with the US Coast Guard and others dealing with these incidents on how best to pick up the tar junk while protecting the eggs.

Says Martin, the grunion, "Put the eggs in the same position on the beach where the tar balls have been popping up and when they're on top of them they can be affected by the fumes."

The tarry material has been sent to labs for analysis.

The beach was closed about 4 p.m. Wednesday from First Place to 72nd Place and will not be reopened until health and environmental concerns can be addressed, Long Beach Fire Department spokesman Jake Heflin said.

"There have been ongoing efforts throughout the evening to make sure we are mitigating and minimizing any potential impact, not only on our beaches and protecting the environment, but also protecting and preserving public health and public safety,'' Heflin told reporters at a beachside briefing Thursday morning.

Heflin said a pelican was found saturated with oil and was being cared for by animal control workers. A sea lion was seen on a breakwater in the ocean, possibly contaminated by oil, but it swam away.

Source testing is underway to determine if the tar balls are related to the oil spill north of Santa Barbara May 19. There is no indication the incident is related to any Long Beach Gas and Oil operations, Heflin said.

Long Beach residents are advised to keep off area beaches because of the possibility of unsafe conditions, Heflin said. Beach users are advised to avoid contact with oil tars washed ashore or found in the water. Contact with oil tars may cause skin irritation and long-term health effects.

Meanwhile, officials in Seal Beach, located just south of Long Beach, said tar balls have also been spotted on the shoreline near Neptune Avenue and Anderson Street, but no beach closures have been ordered. Coast Guard officials have taken samples of the tar from Seal Beach and "stated that there is no need to close the beach and suggested we let the tar balls dissipate naturally.''

"Seal Beach Public Works will pick up the tar balls during the daily beach cleaning operations,'' according to the Seal Beach Marine Safety Department. "An environmental cleaning company is on stand-by if the situation should worsen.''

All reports of oil debris should be made to the National Response Center hotline, (800) 424-8802.

The tar balls washing ashore in Long Beach came two days after large globs of tar washed ashore in Zuma Beach. Nearly all beaches from El Segundo to Redondo Beach were closed last Wednesday through Friday because tar balls washed ashore. The source of the globs has not been identified.

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