SAN DIEGO — Crews are working in San Diego County to clean up tar balls that are washing ashore from last month's Orange County oil spill.

At least 24,696 gallons of oil spewed from a pipeline approximately four miles off the coast of Southern California near an offshore drilling platform on Oct. 2.

What You Need To Know

  • About 3,000 pounds of tar are being cleaned off San Diego County beaches every day
  • Tar balls are extremely toxic and should not be handled
  • Surfrider Foundation developed a Quick Capture app that tracks and maps tar balls so official cleanup crews know where to focus help
  • Citizens should report tar balls using the Surfrider app or the California Department of Fish and Wildlife e-mail, but not both

The Surfrider Foundation developed an app that allows citizens to track and take photos of tar balls they see at their local beaches.

“It’s a great citizen science reporting app and anyone with a smartphone can use it,” Mitch Silverstein of the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter said.  “It’s really an act of service.”

Tar balls are very toxic and composed of hazardous chemicals — they shouldn't be handled except by professional hazmat cleanup crews.

“It’s pretty much plug and play,” Silverstein said. “You come down, if you find tar balls, you’re going to take a picture of them. It's automatically going to keep track of your steps. It's going to keep track of the GPS location of the tar balls and notify response teams.”

So far, about 535,000 pounds of tar have been collected overall. About 3,000 pounds a day have been collected along San Diego County beaches.

“Here we are about a month later, we’re still finding tar balls on a daily basis,” said Julia Chunn-Heer of Surfrider Foundation. “The app that we’re using, it’s being sent daily to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and then that data that we’re collecting and our app is collecting is informing the shoreline cleanup efforts. So they can see what we’re seeing, what’s happening on a daily basis.”

Roy Kim is an environmental scientist who works for the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, Office of Spill Prevention and Response. He has walked dozens of miles of San Diego County’s coastline to make sure crews don’t miss a single tar ball. 

“Right now, we are focusing on San Diego County,” Kim said. “It is a lot of shoreline and we do have a limited amount of personnel, so when those tar ball emails come in there is someone actively looking at them every day. There’s no easy way to assess the beach without actually being on the beach and visibly looking for the oil.” 

Kim added that the Surfrider Quick Capture app is very helpful in gathering data during times of crisis. The public can also report tar balls by emailing, but officials urge the public to make sure they don’t use both the email and the app for the same report. 

“I’d rather not be doing this and I’d rather no one has to do this,” Silverstein said. “We do it because we want to help out and because we want to protect what we love but at the end of the day I’d rather be out here enjoying the beach, surfing and hanging out with my family.” 

If your boat, business or property has been impacted by the spill, you can file a claim by calling 1-866-985-8366. 

The Oiled Wildlife Care Network, managed by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine says it is very important that members of the public do not attempt to catch oiled wildlife. It’s not safe for the animals or the humans trying to rescue them, as oil is a toxic substance. Instead, the best way to help is to report oiled animals to the OWCN hotline at 1-877-UCD-OWCN (823-6926).