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Runners pass by a manhole leading to a sewer pipe that burst last month potentially causing 200 gallons of raw sewage to flow into the harbor. 

On the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 3, a sewer pipe burst in Redondo Beach on Harbor Drive and Portofino Way sending roughly 200 gallons of raw sewage towards King Harbor.

City work crews were notified about 1:45 p.m. and the sewage was successfully diverted a few hours later to avoid any leaks.

Following the incident, city officials reported the spill to the L.A. County Public Health Department, but did not issue a public notification even though the sewage could have reached the harbor near the Sportfishing Pier where stand-up paddleboarders and kayakers typically launch.

“As far as notification, our protocol is to get this information to L.A. county health,” said Public Works Director Ted Semaan. “We don’t do a public notification. L.A. county does that, and I don’t know what their protocols are.”

According to a spokesperson with the health department, no sewage actually reached the harbor. The county reviewed satellite images and storm drain maps. They found the capacity of the storm drain catch basin at nearly half a mile exceeded the 200 gallon spill.

“Most storm drains do not flow to the ocean during dry weather, which was the case during the time of this spill,” according to a statement by the health department.

The only problem is that on the afternoon of Sept 3 around 4 p.m., Redondo Beach experienced a large rainfall. As a precaution, county health officials say they reviewed the location where any sewage would have reached and found nothing.

“No visual evidence of flow from the storm drain or evidence of sewage was observed,” the statement said. “The storm drain was confirmed to terminate in a rocky sloped area of the harbor that is not accessible to recreation, like a beach maybe.”

A beach report card issued each week by the nonprofit Heal the Bay, did find elevated levels of bacteria during dry conditions from a monitoring station 100 yards south of Redondo Beach pier during the week of Sept. 4. On the week, the beach received an F grade, although it received A+ grades every week since March.

Whether that can be explained by the possible sewage spill is unclear, according to Karen Vu, beach water quality analyst.

“Sewage spills that reach ocean waters contain high concentrations of contaminants and harmful bacteria, including fecal bacteria,” Vu said. “Swimming or surfing in waters with high concentrations can greatly increase your risk of getting sick and contracting illnesses such as gastroenteritis, diarrhea, skin rashes, and eye, ear and throat infections.”

In her experience, Vu said that beaches usually only remain closed for a few days. In Orange County in August, 900 gallons of sewage closed a stretch of beach for five days. In another case, 7,500 gallons of sewage resulted in a Long Beach closure for up to three days.

“The impact of a sewage spill in the ocean largely depends on the water conditions,” Vu said. “For an area like King Harbor, I imagine the sewage would stick around for a longer period of time, since there is close to zero wave action there.”

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