Baykeeper Update

Mystery Goo Identified But Chemical Spills Still Threaten the Bay

The toxic “mystery goo” that was spilled into San Francisco Bay in January, harming hundreds of birds, has finally been identified. State government scientists say it’s a polymerized oil similar to vegetable oil.

But the identification of the substance yields no clues about where the spill came from. No responsible party has been found, and scientists at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife say that this may be as far as the investigation can go.

Moreover, the next time a chemical is spilled or dumped into San Francisco Bay, wildlife could again die and the pollution won’t be contained or cleaned up by official responders. State agencies that respond to oil spills do not have funding to clean up a future toxic spill or rescue affected wildlife.

California’s existing spill-response system funds state agencies to respond only to petroleum-based spills. In January, when the mystery goo was spilled along the East Bay shore, hundreds of birds died while trained agency responders stood by. Baykeeper and other nonprofit organizations stepped in to find, rescue, and care for the injured birds.  

Senate Bill 718—introduced by Bay Area Senators Mark Leno and Loni Hancock and sponsored by San Francisco Baykeeper and Audubon California—was intended to address this loophole. The bill would have funded state agencies that are trained to respond to oil spills to also respond to chemical spills in California waters. But the bill was unexpectedly killed in May.

The next time a chemical is spilled or dumped into the Bay, it will again be up to Baykeeper and our partner wildlife-rescue nonprofits to respond. Baykeeper is doing all we can to stay prepared. But we still support a much better solution: if an unknown chemical is spilled or dumped in San Francisco Bay, state-funded oil spill response agencies should be activated clean it up and rescue injured wildlife.