The presence of heavy metals and E. coli in raw sewage along the US-Mexico border is a significant threat to public health. This issue is considered a crisis that requires urgent attention.

The presence of heavy metals and E. coli in raw sewage along the US-Mexico border is a significant threat to public health. This issue is considered a crisis that requires urgent attention.

A recent report states that the presence of raw sewage and runoff in the Tijuana River is putting communities at the border of US and Mexico at risk of exposure to a dangerous combination of pathogens and harmful chemicals.

A report published by researchers at San Diego State University states that the river flowing north from Mexico through California and into the Pacific Ocean carries billions of gallons of sewage containing harmful chemicals such as arsenic, as well as viruses, bacteria, and parasites.

The experts have labeled the issue as an urgent public health emergency.

The discharge of wastewater into the ocean has caused beach closures for over 700 days in a row in San Diego county. However, the impact of this contamination is not only limited to the water. Harmful substances and disease-causing microorganisms found in sewage have also been found in the air and soil in the surrounding area, putting even those who live far from the beach at risk.

For many years, people living on both sides of the border have been expressing concerns about this pollution. They have noticed a constant unpleasant smell in the air and have been advocating for improved sewage systems. In recent years, severe storms, made worse by the changing climate, have added to the strain on already struggling wastewater infrastructure, posing a greater threat to public health.

According to Paula Stigler Granados, an associate professor at San Diego State University’s School of Public Health and the lead author of the paper, this is not a small amount of contamination over a short period of time. Instead, it is a significant level of contamination that has occurred over an extended period.

The report confirms the long-standing concerns and anxieties of residents in Imperial Beach, a town located north of the border with Mexico, regarding the worsening sewage problem.

“Regrettably, Imperial Beach serves as an example of what an environmental injustice entails,” stated the mayor of the city, Paloma Aguirre.

Imperial Beach, California, has been on the forefront of the sewage contamination issues.

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A champion for coastal preservation and avid surfer, Aguirre dedicated close to twenty years to finding resolutions for the pollution issue at Imperial Beach before being elected as mayor in 2022.

She explained that the situation had become complex due to the problem spanning across the national boundary, thus necessitating collaboration between the US and Mexican administrations. In January, construction began on a modern wastewater treatment facility in Punta Bandera, located six miles below the border, to replace the outdated one.

In 2020, the United States government approved a $300 million budget to enhance a wastewater treatment facility in San Ysidro, located north of the border. However, a government memorandum obtained by the San Diego Union Tribune in the previous year exposed that the plant was in severe decline, with half of the funds necessary for simply preserving the current infrastructure.

Aguirre and other community leaders and supporters have been advocating for an extra $310 million in federal funding to enhance the capacity for wastewater treatment. This request was included by Joe Biden in an emergency supplemental funding proposal in October, but it has not yet been approved by Congress. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, and Congressman Scott Peters, whose district shares a border with Imperial Beach, have also stressed the need for immediate action.

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Aguirre stated that in the past 12 months, there has been a significant increase in attention towards this issue compared to its history. However, this attention is still not sufficient.

This week’s report was requested to support officials’ appeals for additional resources. Granados and her team examined over 60 studies and reports to provide an overview of the potential health and environmental hazards associated with urban runoff and sewage in the area. This request came from Peters and the Conrad Prebys Foundation, a charitable organization in the local community.

The report identifies various potential dangers, such as the emergence of antibiotic-resistant forms of E. coli and legionella. The sewage overflows may also contain diseases that were previously almost eliminated in the US, such as tuberculosis. Researchers discovered that the sewage also contains harmful substances like prohibited pesticides like DDT and heavy metals. These contaminants likely come from industrial waste in urban areas that make their way into the river. The researchers noted that these pollutants can also spread through the air when waves crash, carrying pathogens and toxins over large parts of the surrounding area.

The sewage is a serious threat to the nearby ecosystems. The scientists highlight a recent incident in San Diego where bottlenose dolphins who washed ashore were discovered to have passed away due to sepsis caused by a bacteria that is typically spread through contact with feces or urine.

There is a lot that is still unknown to researchers regarding the crisis. This includes the impact of prolonged exposure to different pollutants, bacteria, and other harmful agents on people’s health. However, the researchers emphasize the urgent need for investments in infrastructure and public health resources.

Aguirre, who has personally experienced contracting illnesses, including viral pharyngitis, after being near the water, stated that everyone living in this area has been impacted by it in some way. She believes that this should not be accepted as a normal occurrence in our lives.