Updated Friday: Beaches could reopen after cleanup of oily goo
Updated Thursday 2:15 p.m.: Oil globs close Los Angeles-area beaches to swimming
Popular beaches along nearly 7 miles of Los Angeles-area coastline were off-limits to surfing and swimming Thursday as scientists looked for the source of globs of tar that washed ashore.
The sand and surf on south Santa Monica Bay appeared virtually free of oil after an overnight cleanup, but officials weren't sure if more tar would show up. They planned to assess during low tide at midday.
U.S. Coast Guard and state officials said samples of tar and water would be analyzed to identify where it originated, but it could take days to get the results. Nothing has been ruled out, including last week's coastal oil spill that created a 10-square-mile slick about 100 miles to the northwest off the Santa Barbara County coast.
There is also a refinery and offshore oil tanker terminal nearby, but the Coast Guard did not find a sheen from a spill after the tar started to accumulate Wednesday.
No problems with wildlife have been reported, said Sau Garcia of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Lifeguards chased a handful of surfers out of the water, but beach life was otherwise normal for people exercising, playing volleyball, skating and riding bikes along the shore.
"I got a couple waves in and then they came by again and told me to get out," said Scott Berk, who regularly surfs at Manhattan Beach.
He said surfers are used to seeing bits of tar in the water and on the shore from natural seafloor seepage, but the amount that came in Wednesday was concerning.
"I hope they clean it up quickly," he said.
Public health officials told people to avoid contact with the water, wet sand or any material that washed up in the area. They warned that contact with petroleum products can cause skin irritation and result in long-term health problems.
Officials said it appeared to be about a barrel or two of oil — nothing like the Santa Barbara spill that killed some 16 birds and nine marine mammals, including dolphins and sea lions.
A small amount of tar also was reported Wednesday about 60 miles to the north in Oxnard, officials said.
Jane Hamburg, 54, of Cincinnati, saw news of the tar on TV and came down expecting black beaches. Instead, she found clean, groomed sand and no shortage of joggers, bicyclists and dog walkers.
"Looks good from where I'm standing," she said in Manhattan Beach. "I was expecting it to interrupt my day. Now, I just hope the sun comes out."
— Christopher Weber, The Associated Press
Updated 9:03 a.m.: Days or weeks to identify source
Local, state and federal authorities have collected samples of mysterious "tar balls" and "tar patties" that have washed up on Los Angeles-area beaches, but it could take days or weeks before they can identify the exact nature of the substance or its source, officials said Thursday.
Crews worked through the night to collect samples of the gooey substance but must send them away for testing, and that will take time, said Coast Guard Capt. Charlene Downey at a morning press conference.
The beaches along south Santa Monica Bay appeared virtually free of oil after the overnight cleanup, but officials weren't sure if more tar would show up, according to the Associated Press.
It was unclear whether the appearance of the tar-like patches on local beaches was connected to the spill in Santa Barbara County last week. Downey said they were considering a number of possibilities.
"It could be anything. It could be natural seep. It could be ships anchored. It could be ships transiting. It could be refinery. It could be any one of those possibilities, and we can’t tell at all at this point exactly the source, but those are the types of things that we’re looking at," Downey said.
Downey said the Coast Guard was so far leading the cleanup effort and had tapped into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which means the operation is so far being funded with federal dollars.
Miles of beaches from El Segundo to the Redondo Beach-Torrance border will remain closed for cleanup activity and to protect the public, officials said. The public was being asked not to go in the water or beyond the lifeguard towers.
Sau Garcia of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said there have been no issues with wildlife yet, but if the public comes across an injured or oiled animal, they should leave the animal where it is and contact the Oiled Wildlife Care Network at 877-823-6926.
Another update was expected at noon.
— KPCC staff
7:28 a.m.: Los Angeles-area beaches closed by mysterious oil globs
Nearly seven miles of Los Angeles County coastline is closed as U.S. Coast Guard scientists investigate mysterious balls of tar washing ashore.
Beaches from the El Segundo jetty south to Redondo Beach are closed Thursday as crews clean up the mess.
Officials say it appears to be about a barrel or two of oil — nothing like the spill from a pipeline that created a 10-square-mile slick off the Santa Barbara County coast last week.
The cause of the goo is a mystery. There's a refinery and offshore oil tanker terminal nearby but the Coast Guard didn't find a sheen from a spill. It also might be residue from the Santa Barbara spill.
Also natural seepage has been known to leave tar balls on the sand — and beachgoers' feet.
— Associated Press
This story has been updated.