San Francisco Bay Polluted on a Daily Basis



It has been estimated that there were more than 2000 spills of sewage into San Francisco Bay in 2008 alone. These spills dumped 15 million gallons of raw or partially treated human waste into the waters of the bay. Besides a high factor of disgust, these spills killed thousands of fish off the coast of a city that likes to proclaim itself environmentally conscious. More than that, though, these spills have been linked to respiratory infections, eye and skin irritation, and other flu-like symptoms in those who swim in the water. Signs warning people not to come into contact with the water are common around the bay, especially after storms.

One reason for the spills is due to outdated pipes and sewage systems that are 50 years or more old. San Francisco’s sewage lines are more than a century old. After storms, the systems are inundated and spill thousands of gallons of sewage directly into the bay. Two massive spills during the month of February spilled over a million gallons of waste, each one after a storm. The spill of February 17 caused health officials to post warnings for more than a week, and a fishing pier was closed. However, though the massive spills are the ones that make the news, it is thought that leaks from outdated pipes cause five spills a day.

While the pipes are outdated, the municipal sewage treatment systems are also behind the times, and have not been kept up. There are also complaints that money meant to go to maintenance on the systems is not being used. For example, a 2.5 million gallon spill in Marin County in January 2008 has been blamed on the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin withholding over $500,000.

Though money has been provided by the government, some of the problems are so big that it will take hundreds of millions of dollars, and years to fix. Still, the Environmental Protection Agency has ordered several municipalities to fix the pipes.

Again, this is more than simply an event to shake our heads at and chalk up to just another problem with the environment. This has serious effects on the health of those who live in the Bay Area. However, the Bay Area is only one of scores of other places up and down the coasts of the U.S., as well as many inland cities, affected by outdated sewage plants. The health of millions of people is at risk when clean water becomes a problem.