Los Angeles cleanup targets stormwater pollution
Each month, Los Angeles County residents drop more than 1 million cigarette butts and nearly 900,000 pieces of litter on the ground. That’s according to research conducted by Glendale, Calif.-based Pellegrin Research for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. The DPW is concerned about the debris traveling through the storm drain system and ending up in lakes, rivers and the Pacific Ocean.
That debris consists of tons of pollutants, including animal droppings, pesticides, motor oil and lawn fertilizers, that ultimately end up in the ocean. A major rainfall can result in 9 billion gallons of water flowing untreated into county waterways.
Stormwater pollution has been linked to increased risk of viral infections, flu and skin rashes for ocean swimmers near storm drain outfalls, according to a 1996 epidemiological study conducted by the University of Southern California School of Medicine. It also can close beaches and contaminate or kill marine life. In 1996 alone, of the 4,200 tons of trash collected by L.A. County, roughly 2,100 tons came from county beach cleanups that cost about $7.2 million.
In preparation for the expected heavy rains resulting from El Nino, crews from the DPW have been hard at work in recent months clearing flood control channels and catch basins. “We’ve repaired channel fencing, raked tons of debris and inspected pumping facilities as we do each year in anticipation of flood season,” says Harry Stone, director of the 3,500-employee department.
In addition to maintaining the infrastructure, the county is undertaking a stormwater public education and outreach campaign. The program “lets people know exactly what they can do to reduce stormwater pollution,” says Stephen Groner, DPW’s stormwater project manager. “The program targets residents who are the biggest polluters and most likely to change their polluting behaviors.”
The educational campaign seeks to reach residents with newspaper, magazine, radio and billboard advertising that offers tips for fighting pollution. The “Neat Neighbors” campaign targets homeowners, while the “Fix-it Foul-ups” campaign is directed toward do-it-yourselfers, who often are unaware that their actions produce pollution. The advertising campaign, slated to run through May, initially will focus on litter prevention and cleanup and the reduction of fertilizer or pesticides flowing from lawns into the streets.
The campaign is the result of a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit issued in 1996 by the Regional Water Quality Control Board, part of the California Environmental Protection Agency. The permit calls for the county and its 85 incorporated cities to measurably increase the knowledge of target audiences regarding the impact of stormwater pollution. The regional board relies on public education as the predominant method of reducing pollutants to coastal and inland waterways.
In a leadership role, the county is working with Los Angeles and 84 other cities, environmental groups and regulatory agencies to combine resources in what may amount to a nationwide model for stormwater education. Reducing illegal storm drain dumping and developing waste disposal guidelines for small businesses are primary objectives. The outreach campaign is one of several recently implemented environmental programs that encourage L.A. County’s 10 million residents to build better communities by reducing waste to county landfills, preventing pollution of rivers, lakes and the ocean and keeping neighborhoods clean.