MID-CITY — More than 120 gallons of raw sewage flowed onto a street near Saint John’s Health Center Wednesday night, with some of that sewage making its way into the storm drain system but most likely not to the Santa Monica Bay, city officials said.
The spill — reported to be 125 gallons — stemming from the hospital was reported at about 9:40 p.m., said Santa Monica Fire Capt. Milo Garcia, who was on the scene with the department’s Hazardous Materials Team after receiving a report of a foul odor. Firefighters were able to contain some 50 gallons along 23rd Street before city crews arrived to vacuum up the sewage.
Officials with Saint John’s said the spill occurred during a routine flushing of the hospital’s septic storage tank.
“A mechanical malfunction caused two tank pumps to go on simultaneously as opposed to the normal one,” said Greg Harrison, director of marketing and business development for Saint John’s. “This increased pressure caused a spill where our drainage system meets the city sewage system. Our crew controlled the spill quickly. … There was no public health risk. The mechanical issue has been resolved and the system is working properly.”
City officials said Saint John’s is allowed to pump only a certain amount of sewage into the city system to ensure a spill doesn’t occur. An investigation will be conducted to determine the exact cause of the spill and to see if Saint John’s should be fined for the alleged violation.
Gary Welling, City Hall’s wastewater administrator, said he will be following up with the hospital. A violation could result in a $1,000 fine or higher. Welling said a storm water diversion system should have prevented the sewage from reaching the Santa Monica Bay.
Residents living near the hospital have complained for at least a year about the strong stench of raw sewage seeping into their homes from the hospital’s storage tanks, which are emptied often.
“I inhaled a huge whiff of gas and it just put me into a gagging fit,” said neighbor Brian Cole of the spill Wednesday night. “It was really awful. I don’t know if it was unhealthy to be out there, but I didn’t feel good about breathing methane and noxious gasses.”
Saint John’s recently completed construction of the Howard Keck Center, considered to be a landmark milestone in the medical center’s efforts to rebuild its campus after more than one-third of its buildings were damaged beyond repair in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The hospital in 2005 also opened the Chan Soon Shiong Center for Life Science. The two buildings sit behind the old 1950s hospital, which will be demolished. The price tag for both centers was estimated to cost approximately $500 million, about 80 percent of which came from private donors.
The construction has created friction between neighbors and the hospital.