- 1950 -
Ocean Disposal of Cannery Waste
in East Bay 
 

      Canners along the eastern side of the San Francisco bay in Oakland and Richmond sometimes disposed of their waste in the bay.  In the early 1950s, East Bay canners were using a scavenger services, Oakland Scavenger, to collect their liquid waste and store it at their waste collection facility in San Leandro.  The scavenger company then pumped the waste through a pipe into the bay.  The waste combined with the waste of many other manufacturers and slowly broke down and washed away. 

     Over time, there were too many companies pushing their waste out into the bay.  The waste no longer broke down and there was not enough water flow to carry it into the bay and out into the Pacific Ocean.  The decaying waste created a noxious odor and contributed to deoxygenation of nearby tidal flats.  Residents complained of a constant “rotten-egg odor” and “slime so thick south of the Richmond inner harbor that one Fish and Game warden sank up to his hips in seconds.”

    To combat bay pollution the local water pollution board, created limitations on the amount of wastewater that could be pushed into the bay without being processed first. Canners asked the local municipal waste processing plant, East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), for permission to send cannery liquid wastes there.  EBMUD turned them away because the levels of organic matter in the cannery waste was too high to process in their facility at that time.

    Canners developed a plan to dispose of their waste in the Pacific Ocean.  The canners would send their waste to the Oakland Scavenger facility. Then, it would be pumped into a barge and hauled past the Golden Gate Bridge and twenty miles out into the ocean past shipping lanes.  The scavenger company had to test the water around the area where they discharged the waste to make sure that the waste was dissipating appropriately. 

     The plan worked until 1959 when there was a tugboat workers strike during the peak of canning season.  Cannery waste backed up in the holding cells at the Oakland Scavenger facility and began rot.  It smelled horrible and attracted many pests. Residents of San Leandro complained to their city government about the nuisance, and there was a lot of negative press.  To end the negative press, East Bay canners paid high wages to the striking tugboat workers to take their waste from the waste facility to the Pacific.

Sources

California League of Food Processors Papers, University of California - Davis, Shields Library Special Collections

"Canneries Agree to Dump Waste at Sea to Halt Odors." Oakland Tribune. May 3, 1960.

"Canners Put Lid on City's Stink." San Leandro Morning News. May 3, 1960.

"Leandro Grateful to Canners' League." Haywood Daily Review. May 3, 1960.