Cleanup crews tackle largest recent deposit of tar balls in San Diego County


Crews work at the beach in Del Mar to clean up tar balls after an oil spill in October 2021. (Photo: City of Del Mar)

DEL MAR, Calif. — Officials in Del Mar say crews have been working in recent days on cleaning up the largest recent deposit of tar balls since the oil spill in Orange County over two weeks ago.

The tar balls — sticky remnants of oil slicks broken up by wind and surf — first washed up on Tuesday and represented the “largest buildup of tar in a single day” seen on the North County coast, according to the city of Del Mar.

Specialized teams with hazardous material training have been tasked with cleaning up Del Mar beaches and nearby areas along the San Dieguito Lagoon. They may be seen in the area by beachgoers on Friday, the city said. The workers were expected to focus on areas near Fletcher Cove, Scripps Bluff and the city’s southern beaches.

“As prevailing currents and winds move the material from north to south, cleanup assignments generally follow the same pattern,” a city spokesperson wrote. “That means Del Mar benefits from work completed on beaches to the north.”

In the quantities they’ve been found in San Diego since the spill, officials have said the tar balls do not pose enough of a risk to close the coastline. “Air, water and sediment monitoring in Orange and San Diego counties has shown the tar does not present a public health concern for short-term exposures,” the city’s news release reads.

Despite that, residents are asked not to try to clean up the tar on their own, as direct exposure to oil can be harmful. “In the event of contact with the skin, wash the affected area with skin-safe cleaners and water. Do not use degreasers, cleaning solutions or solvents as they may irritate the skin further,” the city said.

You can report oil-related contamination by emailing

Learn more about tar balls here.

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