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New study outlines air pollution from Tijuana sewage

 March 3, 2023 at 12:11 PM PST

S1: Researchers find sewage contamination in the air near South Bay beaches.

S2: This is the worst it's been in decades , but there may be relief right around the corner.

S1: I'm Maureen Kavanagh. This is KPBS Midday Edition. The Veterans Administration studies psychedelic drug treatments.

S3: We can't change our past , but we can handle how we process things and how we allow things to completely take over our lives. And that was a gift that my own psychedelic therapies have given me.

S1: And we'll discuss the legacy of longtime San Diego opera ambassador Nick Revels. That's ahead on Midday Edition. Sewage originating from the Tijuana River has been contaminating the water surrounding the South Bay's coastal communities for years. But a study from UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows that this pollution isn't just ending up in our water. It's finding its way into the air we breathe. The study , conducted in early 2019 , found that air samples collected in Imperial Beach contain the same bacteria present in contaminated ocean water. Joining me now with more on what this means is KPBS environment reporter Erik Anderson. And Eric , welcome.

S2: My pleasure.

S1: So , I mean , sewage in ocean water was bad enough , but now in the air.

S2: You may have noticed at some times that there's it generates this sort of sea spray. You know , it throws water into the air. Well , they call these aerosols is what scientists refer to them as. And those aerosols can carry the bacteria that is in the water. So when those waves roll in and they hit the shore and they break and they kick up the spray , that's what's putting these particles into the air.


S2: The most obvious one was right there at the lifeguard station by the Imperial Beach Pier. But there were a couple of different locations where they just had monitoring systems in place where they could sample the air at , you know , every so often at a regular interval. And then they could collect that data and measure what was actually in the air that they monitored and they compared it just just so you know , they compared it with similar measurements that they were taking at the end of Scripps Pier up in La Jolla. And they were checking to see if that what they found in the air in Imperial Beach was also in the air in La Jolla. And what they found was , no , it wasn't in the air in La Jolla , but it was in the air in Imperial Beach.

S1: We know that sewage contamination in ocean water can cause things like fever and infections in swimmers exposed to it.

S2: You know , if you contact e coli bacteria in the water , it can get into your system. It can cause all of those health related issues that surfers have experienced there for for for many years. But their researchers are not quite sure if the airborne particles carry enough of a load to when they're breathed in by people to create illness. That's something that they do want to look at. In fact , they have plans in place where they hope to sample , take swabs from lifeguards and people who are on the beach area regularly and people who live near the beach and Imperial Beach to find out whether or not these high concentrations of bacteria in the atmosphere are getting into people and whether or not there are any health impacts. But right now , that question is still unanswered.


S2: Let me explain the No first. The no is it's not limited to any place because any place where there's ocean interaction and aerosols are created. Whatever's in the water at that point would be able to get into the air. And the reason I say yes , it's limited to Imperial Beach because right now we know that's where there's a high concentration of sewage because of the issue with Tijuana's sewage system. So there's regularly sewage in the water and bacteria in the water there. And there's regularly sewage and bacteria particles in that ocean spray in Imperial Beach. And one thing you have to realize , like anything else , the closer you are to the source of those aerosols , which is the surf that's churning it up , the more at risk you are , the further away you get from that , the more diluted whatever gets into the air is and the less likely it is for you to be impacted.

S1: As you say , this sewage is almost a continuing factor in ocean waters in the South Bay , and the sewage flows have continued this winter through the Tijuana estuary into the ocean.

S2: We've had a lot of wet weather and you compound that with the failure of a major Mexican sewage pipe that moves sewage south of the city of Tijuana. And when that pipe broke , they had to turn off all of the extra pumps. So a lot more. Flow came across the border. They estimate that somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 billion , that's billion with a B gallons of sewage tainted water has crossed the border just since the first of the year. And we're only in the beginning of the third month of the year. So wrap your head around that for a little while. The problem has been really , really bad this year and it was really bad all of last summer. But if there's any way to kind of look at the future , there may be help on the way as early as next year. That's when some of these projects that the Environmental Protection Agency drew up as a way to to combat this cross-border sewage flows. Some of those projects are going to start being built. There's an expansion of the sewage treatment plant on the US side of the border. There's work on pumps and pipes on the Tijuana side of the border. They've planned the construction of a new sewage treatment plant near Punta Banderas , south of Tijuana. That plant currently just is kind of a pass through. It doesn't treat any sewage. It just takes raw sewage from the city and pumps it out to sea. And there's hope that a new facility there will keep that from happening. So there is some hope on the horizon. But this is sort of like the darkest part of the night comes right before the dawn. This is the worst it's been in decades. But there may be relief right around the corner.

S1: Well , I hope you're right. I've been speaking with KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson. Eric , thanks a lot.

S2: My pleasure.

S1: The Department of Veterans Affairs is studying psychedelic drugs as a treatment for PTSD and other disorders. For decades , some scientists have viewed psychedelics as a potential treatment for addiction and other psychiatric conditions. But research was thwarted by government regulation and concerns about recreational drug use. As Jonathan all reports for the American Homefront Project , the VA now is trying to work around those obstacles.

S4: Jesse Gould is a retired Army Ranger. He was a motorman , meaning he regularly launched shells from a metal tube just a few feet away. He says the repetition of those blasts was like getting hit in the head over and over again.

S3: These concussive forces over time can have very similar issues and damages on the brain. I was not diagnosed with that , but I had to figure that out for myself of being around all these explosions.

S4: Gould was eventually diagnosed with PTSD , but all of the conventional treatments didn't help him. That's why he turned to psychedelics.

S3: And a lot of traumas don't go away , But you are able to handle them better , right ? We can't change our past , but we can handle how we process things and how we allow things to completely take over our lives. And that was a gift that my own psychedelic therapies have given me.

S4: VA clinics in New York , California and Oregon are conducting studies using psychedelic drugs like MDMA , also known as ecstasy and psilocybin , a compound produced naturally by some mushrooms. That makes the VA one of dozens of institutions studying psychedelics. Dr. Josh Siegel is part of a team researching the drugs at Washington University in Saint Louis. He says while the data shows psychedelics are successful in treating PTSD , severe depression and anxiety , there isn't consensus among researchers on exactly how they work. Siegel says some believe the mental journey someone has while on the drugs is the cause , while others look to the science.

S5: These drugs , which are , in the case of psychedelics , hitting specific serotonin receptors , and this produces , you know , changes in brain plasticity. And that's why the drugs work. And maybe it has little or nothing to do with the acute experience , the psychedelic experience.

S4: Siegel says he's excited the VA is getting more involved in studies of psychedelics , as it's a major sign of overall acceptance of the drugs as part of a therapy program. Advocates for psychedelic use say a big hurdle to their widespread acceptance is a need for highly trained doctors and nurses to administer them. Even trampy is a lobbyist for silo wellness. He says patients going through psychedelic therapy are very vulnerable to suggestion and require practitioners of the highest training and ethics.

S6: There have been numerous scandals where a facilitator sexually abuses the person that they're leading through a psychedelic or MDMA experience.

S4: Trampy says. Even with those caveats , he's glad the VA is getting involved in the studies with psychedelics. But he's concerned the agency's public support is measured. Lisa Brenner is a clinical psychologist with the VA and testified before the House Veterans Affairs Committee in September.

S7: VA researchers are engaged to be engaged in research around this. However , they need very specific safety and IRB approvals to ensure that we are keeping our veterans safe while we are exploring these new interventions. These current projects are not funded by Office of Research and Development , but VA is engaged in watching closely.

S4: Advocates for psychedelic therapies are hoping the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration will take the Schedule one designation off of MDMA and psilocybin , paving the way for more research and use. They're hoping to avoid a state by state set of decisions , as has been the case for medical marijuana. I'm Jonathan Karl in Saint Louis.

S1: This story was produced by the American Homefront Project , a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The San Diego Opera announced this week the sad news that a beloved colleague and ambassador for the opera , Nicolas Rivoli , died of pancreatic cancer for 20 years. Ravello shared his love for opera with audiences , students and really anyone who would listen as San Diego Opera's director of education and community engagement. Listeners may remember that Nick Ravel's was the host of San Diego Opera broadcasts on KPBS. Ravel's was also a scholar , a musician and a gifted composer. He created two children's operas through his work at San Diego Opera , a queer opera for diversionary theater , and most recently , the post-apocalyptic opera aftermath for last year's San Diego International Fringe Festival. His newest work , Ghosts , will receive its world premiere from San Diego Opera in April. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando knew Ravel's for years and interviewed him on multiple occasions. Beth joins me now.

S8: He was like human champagne just bubbling and effervescent. And he had this boundless passion for opera combined with the knowledge to help make it accessible to anyone. When I first started covering opera , I was so intimidated because I'm basically tone deaf and I only knew opera through Bugs Bunny , but he helped me appreciate it and understand it. And I looked forward to every interview because I knew I would learn something new and that I would get to spend time in his presence.

S1: And kind of strangely , you shared a common love for horror. Yes.

S8: Yes. It's kind of unexpected that this kind , bright , ever cheerful man was also drawn to horror and darkness like me. And we talked about it on many occasions. And he loved recounting this particular story.

S9: When I was eight years old , my mother set myself and my brother in front of the television set , KTLA , from Los Angeles , and watched the first broadcast of James Whale's Frankenstein on television. And from then on , I was hooked on horror. And I still try to get everything that I possibly can of the genre , the stories , novels , movies , especially. I don't know what it is really , but there's something about about the darkness and about being scared and about telling a story that might frighten people even just a little bit that I've always enjoyed. I always enjoyed telling campfire stories and writing horror stories. And even with an old eight millimeter camera making my own werewolf film when I was 12 , I was just I love that stuff. And so now that I'm grown up , I haven't gone very far away from it. But it's a little bit more sophisticated now , I hope.

S1: Now last year he got to produce what he called his pandemic opera aftermath at San Diego International Fringe.

S8: It started as a horror opera , but transformed into something a little quieter and more contemplative , looking at ideas of who we are and how we connect under lockdown conditions. But even then , he was contemplating using opera to express horror because he loved to point out that there's a lot of horror in opera. But here's what he told me.

S9: I'm a great believer that you can approach anything through opera. I absolutely believe in the genre. I think when you sing things the the the story , the drama is more heightened , It becomes more important , it becomes bigger. And I like that the bigness of that. I like that the emotions have the space to explode.

S1: And his latest opera , Ghosts will be having its world premiere in April through San Diego Opera. Tell us what it's about.

S8: So this is a trilogy of ghost themed tales that he was so excited about. He'd been thinking about short form horror operas since 2010 when he did sextet at Diversionary theater. And Slowly Ghosts came together as John de los Santos came on board as stage director and librettist on one of the operas , and I spoke to him in January while he was in hospice about the upcoming world premiere of Ghosts.

S9: I'm so excited. It's also brought back lots.

S10: Of family memories , touching as it does on a little bit of my grandfather's background , my grandfather as an artist , my grandfather being as Zacatecas , Takano , my grandfather being interested in the dark as well. All of his paintings are. Very dark and deals sometimes with dark subjects. So yeah , that I think all of those things have played into the writing of these operas.

S8: And I'm just so sad and angry that he never got to see the opera staged. I mean , it's only weeks away , but when I asked him if he knew any of the details about the production this far out , he told me this about speaking with director John de los Santos.

S10: No , I just told him Creepy. I want jumpscares. I want everything. A horror movie would have except in a slightly larger theater. We're going to be in the Balboa , which is a little large for the property , but I think it'll work really , really well. John is a brilliant director. He'll be able to thrust things out a little bit for for the audience so they'll feel like they're part of the action. I'm not worried about that. I'm concerned for the opera's future because I would really , really like to see it have a future. And the smaller the audience , the easier it is to produce.

S1: Beth , I want to thank you for talking about Nick Ellis and his legacy. His opera , Ghosts will run April 14th through the 16th at the Balboa Theater. It will be a world premiere presented by San Diego Opera.

S8: And I would like to say that the best tribute we can pay Nick , is to come out and see his opera.

S1: I've been speaking with KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando. Thanks again , Beth.

S8: Thank you.

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A study from UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography shows that Tijuana sewage isn’t just ending up in our water - it’s finding its way into the air we breathe. The study, conducted in 2019, found that air samples collected in Imperial Beach contained the same bacteria present in contaminated ocean water. Then, the Department of Veterans Affairs has been studying the effects of psychedelic drugs in treating PTSD, but government regulation and concerns over recreational drug use may stand in the way of better understanding the treatment method. Finally, San Diego Opera announced this week the sad news that a beloved colleague and ambassador for the opera, Nicolas Reveles died of pancreatic cancer. We remember Reveles and talk about his newest work, “Ghosts,” which will have its world premiere at San Diego Opera in April.