Residents sue over foul smell in Dominguez Channel, alleging fire released harmful chemicals

Eight Carson residents filed a lawsuit today alleging negligence from a warehousing and beauty supply company they allege helped bring about the intense foul odor that’s been coming from the Dominguez Channel for the last two weeks.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court Friday morning, alleges that Gardena-based Art Naturals stored hand sanitizers, which the Federal Drug Administration deemed carried “unacceptable levels of known carcinogens,” at a warehouse in Carson and that these hand sanitizers got into the channel following a fire at the warehouse on Sept. 30.

LA County officials confirmed Friday that they are investigating the presence of various chemicals in the channel but wouldn’t comment on whether that investigation might lead to criminal charges or other penalties.

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

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Works Director Mark Pestrella has said during past Carson City Council meetings that the county has been investigating a discharge of materials into the channel—including pallet pieces, cardboard and ethanol—that may or may not have been put into the water intentionally.

The lawsuit adds more detailed accusations. It alleges, the defendants maintained “unsafe conditions” at the warehouse, which burned for more than eight hours and injured four firefighters. Los Angeles County fire officials are still investigating the cause of the fire.

Warehouse owner Liberty Property and its parent company Prologis were also named defendants in the suit. The suit alleges the warehouse company and the beauty supply company did not make any effort to remove the debris from the fire, including “uncombusted ethanol-based hand sanitizer” that remained piled around the warehouse.

That debris then flowed into the Dominguez Channel where it sat in shallow stagnant water, contributing to the kill-off of vegetation in the channel, which prompted the production of foul-smelling hydrogen sulfide gas, the lawsuit alleged.

The stench is most concentrated in Carson near the South Avalon Boulevard exit of the 405 Freeway. Communities in Wilmington, Gardena, Torrance, Redondo Beach and parts of Long Beach have also been impacted by the odor.

The plaintiffs want an injunction directing the companies to pay for relocation and future medical monitoring expenses as a result of the nauseating gas, as well as unspecified damages.

After nearly three weeks of the stench, residents’ feelings of anger and neglect grew.

Exposure to hydrogen sulfide has caused symptoms including headaches, eye, nose and throat irritation, sneezing, dizziness, insomnia, nausea and even vomiting.

“We needed reinforcement,” said Ana Meni, 42, one of eight residents who enlisted the law firm to sue. “We needed help because everywhere we turned, they’re not necessarily helping out the community.”

Officials with Prologis issued a brief statement in response to the lawsuit, saying that media outlets have previously reported that the odor from the channel is related to decaying plants and marine life because of the drought. “The unfortunate fire that broke out in late September is unrelated, which we will make clear when we respond to these allegations,” Prologis officials said.

Officials with Art Naturals didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

During a media briefing Friday morning Pestrella said chemicals that were located within the channel “raise curiosity for us about how they got into the system.” He said the county is investigating.

“I am unable to speak about the details of that investigation,” Pestrella said during the briefing because it may be both criminal and civil. When asked about the lawsuit and the possibility that hand sanitizer chemicals contributed to the odor, Pestrella said he was not aware of the lawsuit and could not speculate about the chemicals under investigation.

Previously, Pestrella has said that the introduction of the materials could have become food to organisms, which might have led to boosting the naturally occurring decay of organic matter, such as vegetation and marine life. The decay and decomposition of the organic matter then produced a by-product of hydrogen sulfide, which is the source of the pungent, rotten-egg smell nearby residents have been inhaling. A low tide drying off vegetation in the channel also led to more decay, he said.

Pestrella said last week that the source of the discharge of foreign material might have come from a nearby pallet fire earlier this month, but the county has not confirmed that theory.

County crews began spraying a deodorizer, Epoleon, into the channel on Oct. 15, but the odor has remained.

The lawsuit was filed by Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy, which has one of its four offices in the Los Angeles/Santa Monica area. The firm has engaged in public health-related lawsuits in the past, having settled a $1.8 billion lawsuit surrounding a massive release of natural gas into the Porter Ranch neighborhood in Los Angeles.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from Prologis officials.

‘Unacceptable on so many levels’: Dominguez Channel stench will last another week, officials say

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Crystal Niebla is the West Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of her grant-funded position with the Post. If you want to support Crystal's work, you can donate to her Report For America position at lbpost.com/support.
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