California’s Oil Spill: A Marine and Ecological Calamity

The recent news of the California oil spill contaminating acres of beach, polluting oceans, and harming marine life and wetlands brings to light the importance of being ready for the unexpected!

California oil spill devastating beach and marine lifeThe oil spill attributed to a pipeline leak off the coast of Orange County is expected to pollute the marine ecology and also taint the stretch of beach from Huntington Beach to San Diego County! While the spill was expected to be much larger when the oil pipeline leak was first discovered, more detailed evaluations in the last week have resulted in officials revising their original estimation of a 126,000-gallon spillage to between 24,696 gallons and 131,000 gallons at a maximum (Fry, Gerber, and Winton, 2021).

Despite this lower estimation of the oil leak into the Pacific Ocean, the ecological damage to marine life, wetlands, birds, and other species, as well as the Southern California beach shores will be severe. The destruction is already being reported in leading news media. In addition, the closing of the beaches will also impact people and their recreational activities. Oil spills are known occurrences globally. In February of this year, a massive oil spill was reported in the Mediterranean off the coast of Israel (Cohen, 2021). However, this month’s (October 2021) California oil spill has occurred after 52 years, following the 1969 Santa Barbara spill that resulted in bringing about much tighter environmental laws and regulations related to oil spill disasters. This was also a turning point in federal environmental legislation with the establishment of regulatory bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970 and the creation of the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act in 1970 and 1972, respectively (Larson, 2021).

As a result, the containment and cleanup efforts for the California oil spill were enacted immediately, with the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies implementing emergency action plans and deploying emergency response teams. In just a week nearly 900 people are working to investigate, survey, and clean up the stretch of beach and water affected by the oil spill. The spill has resulted in the formation of toxic tar balls and other hazardous oil debris washing onto beaches across San Diego County while the crude oil spill is moving towards the coast in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, and San Clemente. Cleanup crews have also rescued many oil-covered birds in the last few days (Fry, Gerber, and Winton, 2021). Authorities have deployed pollution control vessels as part of the cleanup operations while they are optimistic that the people involved in the emergency cleanup efforts will increase in the next few days to 1,500.

While these emergency efforts continue, people across occupations involved in these cleanup efforts must take every precaution to remain safe and healthy by wearing appropriate hazmat suits and other personal protective equipment (PPE). They also should have enrolled for and completed their HAZWOPER certifications.


The occurrence of such unfortunate incidents like the oil spill reinforces the efforts of agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EPA. The number of people deployed in this crude oil spill cleanup effort needs to be properly trained and equipped to handle the hazards that arise. Thus, all those involved in the cleanup efforts must have undergone the OSHA 40-Hour HAZWOPER, 24-Hour HAZWOPER, or the 8-Hour HAZWOPER Refresher training as directed by Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard developed by OSHA and as required in this specific cleanup operations. Supervisors and those immediately responsible for directing the cleanup crews must also undergo the required OSHA 8-Hour HAZWOPER Supervisor training.

volunteers at work cleaning oil spillHow California Residents Can Contribute to the Oil Spill Cleanup Efforts

Volunteers must especially be aware of the hazards and dangers to their health while lending a hand to clean up debris and trash from shorelines.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response is advocating the public in the state of California to volunteer towards the Orange County oil spill cleanup efforts. Volunteers who meet the relevant criteria (be over 18 years of age, be able to lift 25 pounds, and follow the County’s COVID-19 safety protocols) are encouraged to fill out this volunteer online form (Amato, 2021). Volunteers will be provided with relevant safety training by the authorities as required by the tasks they are willing to do. As the spill contamination is considered hazardous, all volunteers must remain vigilant and strictly follow safety procedures. If volunteers possess a valid HAZWOPER training certificate this would be an added advantage not only in terms of their health and safety but as their contribution towards the restoration of the Southern California coastline and marine life would be much higher!

In-Depth Reading

To better understand the devastation that can be caused by oil spills on land, water, animals, and fauna, read the EPA’s publication on Understanding Oil Spills and Oil Spill Response.



Amato, M. (2021, October 8 updated). How can you help with oil spill cleanup efforts. Los Angeles Times. Website. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-10-04/how-you-can-help-with-the-oil-spill-cleanup-efforts

Cohen, A. (2021, February 26). Mystery Israeli oil spill leads to multimillion dollar clean-up. Forbes. Website. https://www.forbes.com/sites/arielcohen/2021/02/26/mystery-israeli-oil-spill-leads-to-multimillion-dollar-clean-up/?sh=ee1f46734cb9

Fry, H., Gerber, M., & Winton, R. (2021, October 8 updated). Oil spill off Orange County coast is smaller than estimated, Coast Guard says. Los Angeles Times. Website. https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2021-10-08/coast-guard-downgrades-total-amount-california-oil-spill

Larson, C. (2021, October 5). California spill came 52 years after historic oil disaster. Associated Press (AP). Website. https://apnews.com/article/oil-spills-science-business-environment-united-states-62aa3ebcc4eb14b07d686decf7c7880e

Published on: October 9, 2021