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Dominguez Channel Odor Could Be an Evacuation Level Event if Due to Underground Fault
CARSON — On Nov. 3, the Coalition for a Safe Environment called for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take over the investigation of the odor emanating from the Dominguez Channel. After a month with no answers or solutions to the odor, the Wilmington-based environmental justice organization conducted its own investigation before calling for the takeover. CFASE’s message simple: We could be in some deep doo doo if the authorities don’t this seriously.
The intense rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide still hovers over the City of Carson, despite recent rains that should have cleared it out. In a released statement, the Coalition expressed incredulity that after four weeks of testing the South Coast Air Quality Management District has not been able to find the source of the hydrogen sulfide gas in the Dominguez Channel. The South Coast AQMD, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and Public Works have been studying the issues, but have released little information.
At the Nov. 3 press conference, the Coalition presented three proposed areas of study regarding hydrogen sulfide sources including the debris from the recent warehouse fire, neighboring oil refineries such as Marathon, Valero, and Phillip 66, and the underground fault shift caused by the Carson earthquake.
“It is true hydrogen sulfide was found in the Dominguez Channel but it is near impossible for Hydrogen Sul-
fide to have been created there and in the large quantities still being released every day,” said CFASE director Jesse Marquez. “It would take tons and tons of decaying organic matter in one location in a confined area, over a period of time, with little to no oxygen to create hydrogen sulfide.”
The likely culprit would be the neighboring refineries, except they have so far denied being the source of the persistent hydrogen sulfide leak. Marquez noted that if the refineries are indeed not the culprit behind the hydrogen sulfide leak, the last possibility, the underground fault shift, could mean the region has a far more significant problem on its hands.
The County of Los Angeles has reported the hydrogen sulfide detected in the air fluctuates but remains at levels that are not expected to pose long-term health problems and does not pose an imminent danger to people who have reported experiencing the odor in areas of Carson, West Carson, and portions of Gardena, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Wilmington, Long Beach, and neighboring unincorporated communities.
Dr. Jill Johnston, an exposure scientist and epidemiologist of the Keck School of Medicine at USC, was present at the press conference. She has studied the odor of hydrogen sulfide in nearby communities and said that the odor isn’t merely a public nuisance but it’s also a toxic chemical that can impact people living nearby and breathing it in.
“The chemical can negatively affect mental health and mental well-being,” Johnston said. “These odors can cause headaches, nausea, and eye and nose irritation. These odors can cause acute and chronic health problems, including high blood pressure and hypertension.”
City council candidate Isa Pulido was also present. He took a water sample and had it tested and found there were high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide.
Councilwoman-elect for Carson 4th District Arleen Rojas agreed with the call for an independent investigation of the odor, while Mayor Pro tem Jim Dear blasted the current administration of the city calling it a crisis of leadership.
“We’re trying to get in the meeting with the EPA and the county of Los Angeles,” Dear said.
“The city was lax, the city was late and the city is the cause of not having action soon enough.” Dear called Rojas’ election as being a catalyst for change.
“This disaster should become a catalyst for change after the channel has been cleaned up for the benefit of the ecosystem’s wildlife,” Dear said.
In an interview with Random Lengths, Marquez elaborated on why it could be a bigger problem if the hydrogen sulfide source was found to be the underground fault.
Marquez explained that if the odor is due to the underground fault, the U.S. Geological Survey would have to step into the picture with the Southern California Earthquake Center to acknowledge that it could be the cause. Multiple agencies would have to sign on to this emergency declaration if it is their conclusion that source of the hydrogen sulfide emissions is the earthquake fault. Then a panel of experts would need to be called to determine next steps.
One of the first next steps in a scenario if the emissions continued daily weekly, monthly, without decreasing, would be the evacuation of residents out of the area. That would be one worst-case scenario.
During the press conference, Marquez alluded to the fact that there are operating oil wells and abandoned oil wells that number in the 5,000-plus category throughout the Los Angeles Harbor Area. Specifically for Carson and Wilmington, there may be a couple thousand abandoned oil wells.
Marquez noted that in the past, there were no strict requirements on how to plug an oil well. They could have plugged it with anything. They would have to inspect every single one of them for emissions. And those that are emitting, they will probably have to re-bore and re-seal. But to even do that would still cause some major releases.
But this is only conjecture because the work simply has not been done and the city, county, and regional authorities have not made this issue enough of a priority, Marquez explained.
A multi-agency response team, consisting of Los Angeles County’s departments in Public Works, Public Health, Fire Health HazMat, and South Coast AQMD, regularly reassesses the situation and community mitigation recommendations. That team is working around the clock to monitor and eliminate the odors from the channel and bring much-needed relief to affected communities.
The pungent odor event has persisted for nearly four consecutive weeks; however, air quality monitoring by South Coast AQMD and County Fire Health HazMat indicates a downward trend in detectable hydrogen sulfide levels, both within the channel and in surrounding communities. More information on current air monitoring efforts can be found on the South Coast AQMD webpage.
Residents may call the County Helpline at 2-1-1 for more information about the incident, assistance options, and reimbursement programs. Online forms are available at: LA County Emergency Response (lacounty. gov). There are also community information centers at the Carson Community Center at 801. E. Carson St., in Carson, from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., daily, and at the Wilmington Senior Center, 1371 Eubank Ave., in Wilmington, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., daily.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Nov. 3, has proclaimed a local emergency to enable additional resources under state disaster legislation to respond to
the Dominguez Channel Odor Incident. The persistent issue began with reports of foul odors in the area on Oct. 4.