Tar ball
A tar ball the size of a hand that washed up Thursday. Photo courtesy of Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath

The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency Thursday advised the public to be cautious at beaches and avoid contact with tar balls.

There have been increased reports of tar balls washing ashore on North County beaches, the agency reported.

It’s unclear if the increased numbers are directly related to the oil spill off the coast of Orange County, an official said. Natural geologic processes may cause tar balls to wash ashore and visible oil hasn’t been detected, the source added.

Beaches in Encinitas, for instance, remained open Friday in response to the reports, city officials said.

In an update on its website Friday, the city also informed residents that they might see members of shoreline assessment teams working along the Encinitas coast to evaluate the tar balls and determine their source.

Encinitas officials asked residents who observe any oil or tar balls to email tarballreports@wildlife.ca.gov and provide the date, time and where the oil was observed, along with a brief description or photographs, and the estimated quantity.

Residents who see wildlife affected by oil should not attempt to help – as this requires special handling – but instead should call 877-823- 6926, a city official said.

The county’s warning is precautionary, as oil content may vary widely based on location and health impacts are unknown, an official said. Crude or processed oil can be carcinogenic and contact should be avoided.

However, brief contact with the substance “is unlikely to cause significant or lasting health concerns for most people,” the official said.

Some people are especially sensitive to certain chemicals possibly found in oil slicks or tar balls, and may develop skin rashes or other conditions, the official said.

People coming into contact with tar balls should clean themselves thoroughly with soap and water or other skin-safe cleaners, according to the official.

The agency advised people not to use degreasers, cleaning solutions or solvents as they may further damage skin, and seek medical attention if they develop a significant rash or suffer a reaction.

Updated 9:20 p.m. Oct. 8, 2021