Odor investigation at Imperial beach

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Over the past decade or so a curious odor has plagued Imperial beach. Beach goers have complained about he unusual chemical smell within the sand and waves but the question still remains, what is that smell? There’s something riding within the waves and it’s not just the surfers.

Every few years the smell returns again and surfers say it has left their eyes stinging. It’s a bubbling shimmering substance that gathers on the shore. Science research has gone as far to identify it at “smelly water.”

Ben McCue, a surfer and manager for the non-profit organization Wildcoast told CBS 8 news, “It hits you physically, like there’s something bad in the water.”

The smell usually occurs during the summer months. Beach goers have noticed it shows up when the current moves north.

The state of California has had the water tested in the previous occurrences of this ‘smelly water,’ and received positive results each time. Because this odorous water only comes to Imperial Beach every so often and with current changes, finding the exact cause is difficult.


Environmentalists have pushed the need for further testing which costs in the tens of thousands of dollars. They are looking for polluting substances such as caffeine, detergents, Motrin and similar chemicals that the sewage treatment process doesn’t eliminate from human waste. Efforts to raise the money for the tests are underway.

“We are really concerned because our noses and all of our physical senses when we are in the water are telling us one thing, and the tests are telling us another,” McCue said according to the Union- Tribune.

The people want answers and Dave Gibson of the Regional Control Board has said they are not sure how dangerous the ‘smelly water’ can be.

Clay Clifton, a watershed monitoring manager for the San Diego Coastkeeper, remembers the first time he encountered the smell in the late 90s. Environmentalists have been keeping documentation of the re-occurrences, but have been unable to track where the smell originates.

Some have speculated that the problem is coming in from South Bay Ocean where sewage is released 90 feet below the oceans surface about 3.5 miles from Imperial Beach. Gibson said there is only a 12 to 16 percent chance that the waste could reach Imperial beach.

“Usually when you test the water, you know what you are looking for. In this case, we are trying to figure out what’s in the water. It’s almost a reverse investigation,” McCue said.

Photo courtesy of habi via Flickr.

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