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L.A. County declares nasty smell in Carson a local emergency

A noxious smell that has sickened residents in Carson and nearby areas for the last month was declared a local emergency Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The move will allow the county to expedite requests for state and federal money to clean up the Dominguez Channel, where hydrogen sulfide gas has been emanating from decaying vegetation, and to provide aid for residents.

Last week, the Carson City Council also declared a local emergency.

The county has spent about $5.4 million so far to clean the channel and help residents. If the job extends through March 2022, the cost could be between $50 million to $358 million, according to public works officials.

Since the odor was first reported on Oct. 3, residents have complained of headaches, nausea, irritation of the eyes, nose and throat — and a slow response from the county.

“We’ve been one month dealing with this crisis, and we have no tangible resources to this day, other than [an air] purifier from L.A. County,” Monique Alvarez of Carson said during Tuesday’s meeting. “That’s unacceptable.”

County public works officials did not begin spraying the channel with a biodegradable neutralizer until nearly two weeks after the smell began. They have said the hydrogen sulfide gas was created by organic material clogging the channel because of the ongoing drought.

Eight Carson residents have filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that a warehouse fire caused the smell, which has been likened to rotten eggs, vomit, farts or body odor.

“Four straight weeks of a disturbing odor that significantly impacts so many lives is indeed a local emergency that must be escalated,” said Supervisor Holly Mitchell, who wrote the motion proposing the emergency declaration.

Mitchell, whose district includes Carson, said the county has approved more than 11,000 requests for hotel rooms and air purifiers, with residents either granted them directly or reimbursed for the costs.

County workers have answered hundreds of phone inquiries and gone door-to-door to provide information to almost 9,000 Carson residents, Mitchell said.

In addition to the neutralizers, public works crews have used an aeration system and lights to attack bacteria in the channel and have removed organic material, including dead animals and plants.

“Even with that, these Herculean efforts have not eliminated the nuisance odor to date,” Mitchell said.

On Wednesday, the Coalition for a Safe Environment, a nonprofit environmental group based in Wilmington, will join community advocates in asking that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigate the cause of the odor.

They say they are skeptical that so much noxious gas could have been generated by decaying organic matter alone.

The Dominguez Channel watershed drains an area of about 133 square miles in southwestern L.A. County.

Lined with concrete in the 1950s, the channel begins at 116th Street in Hawthorne and extends almost 20 miles through Inglewood, Hawthorne, El Segundo, Gardena, Lawndale, Redondo Beach, Torrance, Carson and Los Angeles, terminating at the Port of Los Angeles, according to a county document.

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