City, Regional Officials at Loss Regarding Origins of Wednesday Gas Odor

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City officials maintained no source was found for the odor that wound its way through downtown Long Beach Wednesday, resulting in thousands of individuals exiting buildings in the area in the early afternoon—offices that included Long Beach City Hall, the Long Beach Police Department and occupants of skyscrapers around Ocean and Magnolia.

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A Long Beach Post inquiry determined that at least three entities were dispatched to investigate the odor, which tenants complained smelled like natural, or methane gas in a roughly four-block radius downtown: the Long Beach Fire Department (LBFD), Long Beach Gas and Oil and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD).


 

“We tested [the air] yesterday, and there was no indication of flammable gas,” said Bob Dowell, director of Long Beach Gas and Oil. “We can detect a methane presence, and we did not detect any of that. We did not find any traces of anything.”

LBFD’s Jake Heflin said the department had received 26 complaints Wednesday, beginning at around 1:00PM, and the SCAQMD said they received seven complaints.

As a result of the odor, four terminals at the Port of Long Beach closed for less than 10 minutes—between 1:07PM and 1:15PM.

“It’s difficult to quantify the economic impact for such a short period of time,” said port spokesman Eric Bradley. “Terminal operations are in eight hour shifts, so there is an opportunity for terminals to make up any lost productivity caused by brief interruptions such as this. There have been no reported delays as a result of the short-lived stoppage yesterday.”

Meanwhile, employees such as those at the Aquarium of the Pacific, which as offices in the Catalina Landing area, stayed on site throughout the day.

The Post voluntarily exited the premises around Ocean and Magnolia at around 1:30PM, while The Outer Limits tattoo parlor shut down at 1:00PM for the rest of the day.

Matt, manager of The Outer Limits, a tattoo parlor off of Ocean Boulevard and Chestnut, estimated the shop’s closure resulted in a loss of $600 to $800 per artist for the store. Given the shop’s seven artists working on Wednesday, this means the shop lost a conservative total of $4,200 dollars.

“People were reporting that their eyes were burning and they were feeling dizzy,” he said. “I’ve smelled gas before in downtown, but it just passed by quickly… this was a significant amount.”

In the eight years Matt has worked at the parlor, he said such a closure, prompted by the neighboring environment, is paralleled only by the power outages that occurred in the summer of 2015. The outages resulted in thousands of dollars lost for businesses in the approximate week they were closed, due to lack of power.


 

Downtown Long Beach Alliance (DLBA) officials, who represent businesses in downtown Long Beach, said they were not aware of mandatory evacuations or businesses closing due to the odor.

Various building managers in the areas reporting the odor did not return requests for comment on Thursday. The Long Beach Health Department and MemorialCare did not return multiple requests for information from the Post regarding the health ramifications of the incident.

The LBFD and Long Beach gas and oil, after detecting no methane and losing the trail of the scent, are no longer investigating the situation.

However, the SCAQMD, a regional air pollution control agency responsible for all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, said it has begun a surveillance program as a result of recurring, temporary natural gas odor incidents reported in Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Seal Beach.


 

The SCAQMD is among the 11 entities suing Southern California Gas for neglect and mismanagement during the Porter Ranch gas leak, where a significant quantity of methane gas was detected by their investigators. 

Cher Snyder, who helps direct over 151 employees as the assistant deputy executive in the Office of Compliance and Enforcement at SCAQMD, said the surveillance program started this week, and that their rough hypothesis is the smells are emanating from offshore vessels that are “off-gassing,” among other possibilities, such as refineries, natural ocean floor or wetlands methane release, offshore oil platforms or oil fields, transport of odorous materials on rail or freeway and sewer maintenance.

“We have no jurisdiction over marine vessels in the ocean,” said Snyder. “But we’re trying to find who may have jurisdiction and partner with them.”

Snyder did not outline an agenda or comprehensive strategy, but did outline the surveillance steps, which include taking air samples and evaluating them for harmful substances using canisters, a Tedlar bag and trailer, which test for hydrocarbons, sulfur compounds and continuous hydrocarbons, hydrogen sulfide and particulates, respectively.

“The odors seem to be somewhat random in their appearance, which has us puzzled,” said Snyder. “They do seem to happen in the afternoon. We will analyze the data collected to see if anything resembles a pattern.”

According to SCAQMD records, an average of 32 such complaints occurred in Long Beach over the course of three days in 2014, and 34 over the course of five days in 2012. However, for the remaining years, the number did not exceed an average of eleven complaints over a span of nine days. The organization did not have numbers filed for 2015 and 2016.

Regarding Wednesday’s odor incident, SCAQMD’s Teri Cox said the inspector sent by SCAQMD did not detect any odor.

 



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