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County: Avoid these beaches this Memorial Day because of bacteria

San Diego County is asking state and federal officials to investigate health issues linked to cross-border sewage. KPBS reporter Katie Anastas says several beaches remain closed heading into Memorial Day weekend.

San Diego County leaders are asking state and federal health officials to investigate health issues linked to cross-border sewage pollution.

Beaches in Coronado, the Silver Strand and Imperial Beach remain closed headed into Memorial Day weekend due to high bacteria levels. There are also advisories in place for parts of Mission Bay, La Jolla and Oceanside.

The following beaches are closed as of Friday, May 24:

  • The Coronado shoreline from Avenida Lunar to North Beach, including Avenida Lunar, the lifeguard tower and North Beach
  • The Silver Strand shoreline from North Carnation to South of Avenida Lunar, including the guard shack, lifeguard tower and campground
  • The Imperial Beach shoreline from the south end of Seacoast Drive through Carnation Avenue, including South Seacoast Drive, Cortez Avenue, Imperial Beach Pier and Carnation Avenue
  • Border Field State Park and the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge 

This week, the county submitted a public health request to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health asking them to investigate health issues linked to cross-border pollution. According to the CDC, epidemiologic assistance includes on-site help from staff and access to CDC experts.

In a statement, County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Nora Vargas called it “the biggest environmental and social justice crisis of our lifetime.”

Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre said she hopes federal and state health officials’ attention to the impacts of cross-border pollution will prove the need for more help.

“We want additional and more robust intervention both from our state and from the federal government, because this is a crisis like no other,” she said.

Aguirre created a task force of local researchers to monitor public health impacts. They plan to survey South Bay residents about symptoms that don’t send them to the hospital and are less likely to show up in county data. The county publishes data each week on gastrointestinal illnesses in the South Bay Region collected from local emergency departments.


“We know that people are becoming ill by bacteria and pathogens that are not on those lists, one. Two, not everybody can afford health coverage. Three, not everybody feels that their symptoms are serious enough to merit being hospitalized or going to the emergency room,” Aguirre said.

San Diego State University's School of Public Health researchers have found that toxic chemicals and bacteria aren’t just in the water — they can also be in the air and soil.

Paula Stigler Granados, an associate profession in SDSU's school of public health, is a member of the task force. She said federal and state health officials can lend their expertise in collecting data and looking for trends.

“The science can support the advocacy work,” she said. “That’s the evidence that we need to be able to present to policy makers and the people that hold the funds to say, ‘Hey, this is a real problem. These are some of the evidence that we have.' It’s not just people’s stories, but we’ve got data to back it up.”

Last month, the Port of San Diego joined the county, the city of San Diego and the city of Imperial Beach in declaring a local emergency related to the pollution.

The Southern Indian Health Council, a tribal organization that includes seven federally recognized tribes, has also issued a resolution asking President Joe Biden to declare a federal emergency and provide funding to address it.