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Bacteria Levels Dangerously High as Sewage Flows Unchecked From Ruptured Pipe

February 9, 1992

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Levels of possibly-harmful bacteria ran dangerously high along a 20-mile coastal stretch of the Pacific over the weekend as sewage gushed unchecked from a broken underwater pipe.

Health officials quarantined fish and other marine life in the area, extending three miles out to sea. Contamination with waterborne diseases ranging from dysentery to typhoid and hepatitis were possible.

Coliform bacteria counts measured Saturday were up to 1,100 times the legal limit, said Ruth Covill, a spokeswoman for the county Department of Health Services.

The partially treated sewage began streaming from a treatment plant into the Pacific on Feb. 2 at a daily rate of 180 million gallons.

The pipe ruptured 3,150 feet from the plant, which serves 1.7 million residents. The break came in 35 feet of water. Normally, the outfall pipe carries effluent 2.2 miles offshore to a depth of 220 feet.

San Diego authorities received $10 million in aid Friday from state and federal sources. The Environmental Protection Agency gave about half the estimated $10 million repair cost.

Repairs to the pipe will take six to eight weeks if the weather is good, said Marc Stearns, project manager for Manson Construction and Engineering of Long Beach.

In the meantime, the EPA recommended sewage passing through the plant be disinfected with chlorine, a proposal that rankled water sports enthusiasts.

″They want to destroy our environment. Well, we’re going to stand up to the EPA and tell them they just can’t do it,″ said surfer Mike Bell.

State officials also worried about chlorinating the spill area.

″It could bleach the whole near-shore environment. In other words, it dies,″ said John Grant, a marine biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game. ″It’s sort of like in Vietnam, where they had to destroy a village in order to save it.″

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