HUNTINGTON BEACH (CBSLA) – The Orange County Health Care Agency Sunday issued a warning about the effects of oil exposure to people who venture onto the beaches or into the ocean waters following this weekend’s enormous oil spill.
The 126,000-gallon spill, one of the largest oil spills in recent Southern California history, began Friday by an oil leak from an offshore oil rig about five miles off the coastline. By Sunday, it had made its way to the Huntington Beach coastline, claiming the lives of fish, birds and other ocean wildlife. One of the impacted areas included the Talbert Marshlands, a 25-acre wetland home to dozens of species of birds.
The OCHCA reported that anyone exposed to the oil could potentially have contaminants absorbed through their skin.
Even if you cannot see an oil sheen in the water, the dissolved contaminants may still be there, the agency said.
“The effects of oil spills on humans may be direct and indirect, depending on the type of contact with the oil spill,” OCHCA Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said in a statement.
“People may come in direct contact with oil and/or oil products while walking in a contaminated area (e.g., beach). An initial irritation will be obvious. Additionally, contaminants may be absorbed through the skin. Even when an oil sheen may not be visible, dispersed and dissolved oil contaminants may exist in the water.”
TIMELINE: Huntington Beach Oil Spill
Nearly all beaches between the Huntington Beach Pier south to Laguna Beach have been closed because of the massive spill. People are asked to avoid swimming or surfing in the waters, and biking, walking or exercising on the beaches themselves.
We continue to prioritize our oil spill clean-up and protection efforts in collaboration with our agency partners.
Here is the latest… pic.twitter.com/dJ035OEhPc
— City of Huntington Beach (@CityofHBPIO) October 5, 2021
In Newport Beach where big clumps of hardened oil are now washing ashore, people continue to jump in the water, even after the city posted signs all along the beach alerting the public the water is closed due to the massive oil spill.
“We shouldn’t be out here, but we’re [still] out here,” said Giovanni Carbajal, a local skimboarder.
Carbajal says it’s hard to see and smell the oil but he knows it’s there. “You can definitely feel it around which is not comfortable. It’s kind of like tar.”
On Monday, the city of Newport Beach closed the entrance channel to the harbor by placing a giant boom across it in an effort to prevent all that oil from entering. So far, they say there’s no evidence of oil in the harbor, but you can see the sheen of oil floating on the water not too far away.
“Newport Line Sports Fishing, they’re all closed down. They can’t run cruises and that brings a lot of revenue into our area for businesses,” said Michelle Arbogast, a local business owner.
Businesses like Arbogast’s souvenir and gift shop, “Naturally Newport,” rely on tourism driven by docked harbor boat tours. All that businesses can do is hope for a quick cleanup.
“It was just quiet today… I know they’re working on it but I just don’t know how long it will be,” said Arbogast. “Some people are saying it will be months.”
Carbajal hopes that it’s cleared up quickly too. “This is my playground so it’s sad to see all these clumps,” he said. “It’s a lot of oil too, so it’s literally from Huntington down to Laguna.”
Newport Beach is asking people to avoid contact with the water and with any of the oil areas on the beach. Orange County Health Advisory is recommending that anyone who does come into contact with that oil, seek medical attention immediately.
Symptoms from excessive exposure to oil can include skin, eye, nose and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, an upset stomach, vomiting, a cough or shortness of breath.
People were also advised not to eat any fish or shellfish caught along the O.C. coastline.