A foul odor that has lingered for more than a week in the Carson area has left residents demanding answers as local and regional agencies work to contain the smell coming from the Dominguez Channel.
“I am responsible for what’s happening,” Mark Pestrella, director of the LA County Department of Public Works, said during Carson’s special City Council meeting to declare the stench a public nuisance on Monday evening, Oct 11. “Because part of my job is overseeing flood control systems in 89 cities in the county.”
Scores of residents signed up to offer comments of concern at Monday’s special meeting.
Local authorities began investigating the smell last week after dozens of Carson residents called to complain. The county’s Department of Public Works partnered with staff from the county Public Health department, the county Fire Department’s Health Hazardous Materials Division, the South Coast Air Quality Management District and other outside agencies to study the channel. Experts believe the smell is caused by organic waste material drying out after exposure to the sun during low tide.
“What we’re theorizing is water in the channel is sitting amongst vegetation,” Pestrella said. “This is causing decaying, which releases hydrogen sulfide as a product.”
Pestrella added: “It could also be organics and plankton washed in from the tide contributing to the smell.”
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless gas often used or produced during oil and gas refining, which led many residents to suspect that nearby refineries may be the source of the smell.
“I commute to take my kids to school and on the onramp to the 405 the smell is strongest near the refinery,” said resident Christine Navarrete. “Even through the masks you can smell it.”
The stench has been described by residents as sulfur-like, similar to rotten eggs, sewage and trash. Residents have reported experiencing feelings of nausea, dizziness and soreness in the throat and eyes — akin to the symptoms experienced by El Segundo residents after the fallout from the recent sewage spill at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant.
The Dominguez Channel in Carson Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. A foul odor lingering in Carson for more than a week has left residents overwhelmed as local and regional agencies work to contain the smell coming from the Dominguez Channel. (Hunter Lee, Press-Telegram/SCNG)
“It’s been a week and the only time my body doesn’t feel fatigued or dizzy, or my eyes, nose, and throat aren’t irritated is when I am in a distant city,” said resident Stacy Brown. “Carson needs to stop pretending it’s an issue of inconvenience and admit that it is creating health issues in our community.”
Carson Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes initially announced in a Facebook post last Friday that the smell was caused by a leaking pipeline in the channel, but followed up a few days later to share that preliminary findings from the LA County Public Works and Public Health teams indicated the cause of the odor to be the decaying vegetation.
Pestrella told the City Council on Monday that his mission in addressing the problem has two objectives: keeping the public healthy and finding and addressing the source of the odor.
“I’ve received a notice of nuisance from (L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis),” Pestrella said. “So that means I’ve been directed to find the source of problem and to abate the issue.”
But, Pestrella said, that requires careful methods to avoid upsetting the area and possibly making the smell worse.
“We can try to assist Mother Nature in accelerating the process for decay,” he said. “We can try physically moving the water, aerating it, chlorinating it.”
He added: “But we have to study the biology of the area so we don’t end up releasing more gas instead of containing it.”
Pestrella said he expected to have a set of actions to share with residents by Tuesday morning.
Davis joined the meeting to address the symptoms residents are experiencing, which he called common reactions to the gas even in low amounts, but no cause for fear of long-term health effects. Davis recommended that residents keep doors and windows closed as much as possible to prevent the odor from seeping indoors, using air conditioners if available and using a certified portable HEPA air filter, specifically one with activated charcoal, to improve air quality in their home.
David also urged: “Do not avoid medical attention if you feel like you need it.”
Mayor Davis-Holmes addressed, however, that not everyone in the community can afford to purchase an air filter or conditioning unit or to move out of the area until the smell is gone.
Davis-Holmes asked Pestrella: “What about our senior residents who are shut in at home? They can’t go out and buy an air filter at the store.”
Health Director Davis said that beginning Tuesday morning a new call line would be set up for residents to make a claim, request relocation, file for reimbursement for purchases or to file complaints. The city said they will work with Public Works to help purchase air filters for residents, an expense that would be reimbursed by the county. Residents who have or plan to purchase an air filter, Davis-Holmes said, should save their receipts.
Filing complaints for specific locations, Davis said, will better help the overseeing agencies narrow down hot spots where the odor is strongest.
The Public Works Department will also be launching a portal on its website for residents affected by the smell.
Some, however, say the odor and its symptoms are affecting their livelihoods.
City Council members raised concern about businesses that are losing clients because the smell has entered their sites.
Some residents say the issue crosses beyond city borders.
“Because I work at USC I cannot even pass our COVID symptoms check to get on campus,” said resident Chrisshonna Nieva, who also reported feelings of nausea and dizziness. “I am not allowed to be on campus if I am exhibiting any symptoms that could be linked to COVID.
“So I am trying to figure out how to keep my children at home safe from toxic air,” she added, “and how to responsibly teach my students at USC while staying calm about the fact that the options our city officials have given us are not working.”
Until the new portals are created, residents experiencing odors should continue to call AQMD, 1-800-CUT-SMOG (1-800-288-7644). For help with health protective measures, a county media release urged residents to leave a message on the Public Health Community line at 1-626-430-9821.