New method prevents diseases caused by Mexican sewage

SAN DIEGO – When Serge Dedina strolls the shores of Imperial Beach in San Diego County, he remembers growing up in the ocean.

“I’ve been surfing here since 1977, since I was 13,” he said.


What do you want to know

  • A new study estimates that under current conditions, 4.5% of all annual ocean swimmers at Imperial Beach would become ill while swimming in sewage-contaminated waters
  • Researchers estimate that San Antonio de Los Buenos dumps around 35 million gallons of raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean every day.
  • Flow management in San Antonio de Los Buenos significantly reduces the percentage of sick swimmers in the summer, to 0.5%.
  • The researchers hope that the project will be completed in the next few years

Dedina is not only an avid surfer, but he’s also the mayor of Imperial Beach, a quiet beach town about six miles from the US-Mexico border.

Dedina quit surfing in her hometown about two years ago because pollution from Mexico reached dangerous levels. He says raw sewage coming up the coast from Mexico can turn a simple surf session into a game of Russian roulette.

“I had two sinus surgeries, two ear surgeries. My children got sick,” he said. “The extent of pollution has just catastrophically worsened exponentially over the past 10 years, but much worse over the past three, four years.”

A team of oceanographers and environmental engineers found that if improvements were made to a specific sewage treatment plant about six miles south of the border, it would lead to the biggest reduction in beach closures in the United States , as well as a dramatic decrease in the number of swimmers. who fall ill from contact with contaminated seawater.

Falk Feddersen is a physical oceanographer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. He estimates that San Antonio de Los Buenos dumps about 35 million gallons of sewage into the Pacific Ocean every day.

Feddersen has been studying how pollution moves through the ocean for years. His research estimates that 4.5% of all who swim at Imperial Beach in the summer will become ill from contact with sewage-contaminated water.

“Children are playing on the beach, building sandcastles and that kind of thing in the summer, and there’s a very strong and high risk of people getting sick with Norovirus,” he said.

As Feddersen explained, their research shows that managing raw sewage streams in San Antonio de los Buenos drastically reduces the percentage of people who get sick in the summer, to just 0.5%, protecting thousands of people. .

Doug Linen is co-author of the new study and works for the EPA. He hopes that having concrete data will now lead to solutions.

“We have long suspected that untreated sewage discharges in San Antonio de Los Buenos were impacting US beaches, but the model suggests the magnitude and frequency of impacts are much worse than we thought” , did he declare.

Congressional leaders secured $300 million at the end of 2019 to help address pollution issues, as part of the US-Mexico-Canada trade deal. Since then, the EPA has drafted several concepts for spending the funding to reduce beach closures in San Diego’s South Bay.


After reviewing the recent study, federal and local officials are prioritizing efforts to redirect much of the sewage currently pumped into San Antonio de los Buenos to the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant along from the border to San Diego. The facility uses more modern treatment technology and will be able to treat and recycle water.

“What we realize now is that we have to worry about it,” Feddersen said. “Its very important.”

Dedina will keep an eye on the project, hoping for the day when her community can enjoy the beaches freely and safely, without worry.

“It’s amazing to have world-class oceanographers applying very high-level science to solve real-world problems, just to get back to normal, which is a pollution-free beach,” did he declare.

The EPA expects the project to be completed within the next few years.

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