Imperial Beach Residents Demand Air Quality Monitoring Amid Tijuana Sewage Crisis

Residents of Imperial Beach, California, are calling for better air quality monitoring due to chronic respiratory issues and toxic gas odors from untreated wastewater flowing from Tijuana. The San Diego Air Pollution Control District is installing six air-monitoring stations to track concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and other compounds.

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Nitish Verma
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Imperial Beach Residents Demand Air Quality Monitoring Amid Tijuana Sewage Crisis

Imperial Beach Residents Demand Air Quality Monitoring Amid Tijuana Sewage Crisis

Residents of Imperial Beach, California, including Briana Franco, are calling for better air quality monitoring due to chronic respiratory issues and toxic gas odors from untreated wastewater flowing from Tijuana. The San Diego Air Pollution Control District (APCD) is working to install six air-monitoring stations across South County to track concentrations of hydrogen sulfide and other compounds contributing to the poor air quality.

Why this matters: The ongoing Tijuana sewage crisis has significant implications for public health, particularly in low-income communities of color, and highlights the need for improved infrastructure and binational cooperation to address environmental issues. If left unaddressed, the crisis could lead to long-term health consequences and continued economic losses for affected communities.

The first monitor was installed in San Ysidro eight months ago, and its data showed that concentrations of wastewater gases sometimes climbed above state thresholds. "It would definitely give me peace of mind for my kids," said Briana Franco, referring to access to data on toxic gas levels in the air. Residents like Megan Reina, who suffers from chronic respiratory and sinus issues, believe the monitors "should be installed immediately."

The Tijuana River sewage crisis has been an ongoing issue for decades, resulting in raw sewage being released into the Tijuana River and contaminating waters off southern San Diego. Residents in Coronado and South Bay neighborhoods, many of which are low-income communities of color, have reported developing respiratory and skin conditions after exposure to the pollution. Beachgoers have experienced nausea, vomiting, rashes, and other symptoms following contact with contaminated water.

The San Diego congressional delegation, along with California Sens. Laphonza Butler and Alex Padilla, has called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to launch an investigation into the public health impacts of the crisis. "This pollution has hurt our communities for far too long," said U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas. "Understanding the full scope of their health impacts is critical."

The county has recently launched new tools to track air conditions and illnesses sustained by beachgoers who come into contact with contaminated water. Congress has taken steps to address the root causes of the crisis, including providing nearly triple the typical annual funding to the International Boundary and Water Commission to repair failing infrastructure at its South Bay International Water Treatment Plant. State elected officials are also pursuing new laws aimed at reining in those who engage in deliberate dumping of waste into the Tijuana River.

As the air quality monitoring efforts progress, one station is expected to be installed on a restroom building adjacent to the Port of San Diego-owned Imperial Beach Pier by early summer. Another monitor will be placed on the roof of the city's fire department on Imperial Beach Boulevard near 9th Street, though the project faces delays due to installation constraints. Plans also include adding monitors at the South Bay International Wastewater Treatment Plant, the Tijuana River Valley Campground, and a roaming monitor for quality control. Meanwhile, residents brace for another summer with their windows closed due to the strong odors, as Imperial Beach's beaches approach a milestone of 900 consecutive days of closure.

Key Takeaways

  • Imperial Beach residents demand better air quality monitoring due to toxic gas odors from Tijuana sewage.
  • Six air-monitoring stations to be installed in South County to track hydrogen sulfide and other compounds.
  • Tijuana sewage crisis affects low-income communities of color, causing chronic respiratory issues and economic losses.
  • Congress and state officials push for CDC investigation and infrastructure repairs to address the crisis.
  • New air quality monitoring tools and laws aim to improve public health and prevent deliberate waste dumping.