As pollution from the Los Angeles County Sanitation Districts (LACSD) outfalls decreased between 1980 and 1983, the macrobenthic community partially recovered and surficial (0-2 cm deep) sediment contamination and toxicity decreased at 60 m water depth along a pollution gradient from the outfalls. Pollution from the LACSD outfalls continued to decrease but macrobenthic conditions and surficial sediment quality deteriorated 1 km, was unchanged 3 km, and improved 5-15 km from the LACSD outfalls between 1983 and 1986. The net effect of natural phenomena is indicated when ecosystem changes occur in the opposite direction from that expected under prevailing pollution conditions. The authors data suggest that the net effect of natural phenomena (e.g. winter storms, El Nino) on the benthos was greater than LACSD wastewater effects 1 km, about equal to LACSD wastewater effects 3 km, and less than the LACSD wastewater effects 5-15 km from the outfalls at the LACSD 1983-86 mass emission rate. Since natural phenomena may have an effect on the benthos = or > 3 years of LACSD wastewater effects, short-term benthic changes must be interpreted cautiously at the study site.