County supervisors vote to expedite help related to Dominguez Channel stench

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to expedite support for residents in Carson and neighboring communities suffering from the stench emanating from the Dominguez Channel.

Supervisors Holly Mitchell and Janice Hahn co-authored a motion calling on the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works and county CEO to do what it takes to get relief to residents quickly, including directly distributing HEPA air filters and filtration units, handing out hotel vouchers, reimbursing cities for supplies, and hiring a third party to administer relief supplies and reimbursement.

“I want to make sure that we have our foot firmly planted on the accelerator,” Mitchell said of both those efforts and the work to eliminate the smell.

Thousands of residents from Carson, West Carson and portions of Gardena, Torrance, Redondo Beach, Wilmington and Long Beach have reported the noxious rotting-egg-like smell caused by organic material decaying in the channel. Many have complained of headaches, burning eyes, nausea and other discomforts.

“The impacts … are truly profound and ongoing,” Mitchell said of the stink that began fouling the air early this month.

Hahn said she had been in the area and described the smell. “It was putrid,” Hahn said. “It was the smell from hell.”

The county’s Department of Public Health and the Carson City Council have declared the foul odor a “public nuisance.”

County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis sought to reassure community members in remarks to the board Tuesday.

“All of these symptoms are expected to be reversible and temporary at the levels we’ve seen so far,” Davis said.

He also clarified that the declaration of a public nuisance was not intended to minimize the issue but represents a legal designation that helps free up the county to act.

The Dominguez Channel continues to emit a foul-smelling odor, hydrogen sulfide, on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Photo by Crystal Niebla.

On Oct. 12, the public health department notified residents that they would be reimbursed for reasonable expenses, including the cost of certified portable HEPA indoor air filters or temporary relocation expenses to avoid negative health impacts.

More than 1,200 residents have already sought reimbursement for related expenses, according to county public works director Mark Pestrella.

Pestrella told the board that the smell comes from a natural process of anaerobic digestion of vegetation that naturally releases hydrogen sulfide.

“What’s different about this event is that we have a tremendous amount of vegetation,” Pestrella said.

Normally, these events typically last one or two days, but Pestrella said there is a suspicion that someone—possibly local industrial businesses—might have released chemicals into the channel that caused the overgrowth. The Department of Public Works and the Los Angeles County Fire Department are investigating.

Workers have treated the channel with “a natural biological deodorizer” and are mechanically oxygenating the waterway in an effort to speed the decay.

“We are already seeing a change in the concentrations of hydrogen sulfide,” Pestrella said.

He defended the speed of his department’s response, saying it required coordination with multiple federal, state and local agencies and treading carefully to ensure that potential solutions didn’t make things worse.

Health officials urged residents to keep their doors and windows closed to prevent the stench from entering homes, and consider replacing air filters with stronger, activated-carbon HEPA filters to help clean the indoor air.

Public health officials also urged residents with “persistent, worrisome or worsening symptoms from the odors” to call their health care providers, especially if they have chronic health conditions.

Schools in the area were also urged to exercise discretion regarding outdoor student activities.

Carson council members and Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, D-San Pedro, on Monday called for Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency.

Congresswoman calls for state of emergency to be declared over Dominguez Channel odor

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