Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell urged state officials Tuesday to crack down on "greenwashing," in which companies falsely advertise products as environmentally friendly and flushable.
O'Farrell was motivated by last month's 17-million gallon sewage spill at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant.
"I believe based on what I saw at Hyperion that the volume of supposedly disposable wipes being flushed down the toilets that have proliferated since before the pandemic but certainly since, by the millions every week helped lead to this disaster at Hyperion. These wipes are advertised as flushable in many instances and that is extremely deceptive and costly and dangerous to our sanitation workers," O'Farrell said.
The council approved a motion Tuesday introduced by O'Farrell and Paul Koretz to instruct the city's sanitation department to submit a report on how public notification can be improved, after the department and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health did not immediately notify the public about the spill.
The motion also instructs LASAN to look for engineering opportunities during repairs to begin transforming the facility to recycle 100% of wastewater as part of the city's Operation NEXT. LASAN officials gave the City Council an initial assessment of the cause of the spill Tuesday, but the full report won't be complete for 90 days.
Plant Manager Tim Dafeta said the July 11 sewage spill was caused when the plant's filtering screens were blocked by significant quantities of debris, mostly "everyday mundane trash" including wipes, but also construction material and other large debris.
"Initial theories are potentially there could be areas within our sewer where we have structures such as diversion structures of siphons of broad structures, something different than the normal straight line type that could have caused some hangup of debris and some buildup over time that then on July 11 let loose," LASAN Chief Operating Officer Traci Minamide said.
O'Farrell and Councilman Paul Krekorian introduced a resolution to the City Council in support of a state Senate bill that would mitigate the effects of greenwashing.
"We must continue to educate the public about the importance of proper waste disposal and continue to lobby our state and federal policymakers for resources and laws to help address this continuing problem," O'Farrell said.
"It is widely believed that the disaster at Hyperion was caused by overwhelming quantities of unexpected debris -- such as construction materials, bicycle parts, pieces of furniture and various other types of materials – which partially blocked filtering screens," he continued.
During last Thursday's Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and River Committee meeting, Krekorian blasted what he called "irresponsible" members of the public for not properly disposing of trash and called for the city to come up with ways to prevent future incidents.
"The source of this problem was not some failure by employees, it was not some failure of infrastructure, it was people doing stupid, irresponsible things. It was people doing irresponsible things and then expecting mommy government to clean up after them," Krekorian.
Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, on Tuesday called for an investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration into the massive sewage spill.
"Given the severity of recent incidents, the subsequent and continued discharge of untreated and partially treated wastewater near highly trafficked beaches, and the lack of clear communication by the city of Los Angeles, an investigation into the facility's operations, response and environmental impact is warranted," Lieu wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan and NOAA Administrator Richard Spinard.