Sunday, December 5, 2021

Environmentalists Demand EPA Take Over Carson Probe

The smell of rotten eggs still lingers in the air along the Dominguez Strait in Carson, but measurements from air quality monitors show that hydrogen sulfide levels have dropped since the poisonous smell suddenly surfaced last month.

Officials from the South Coast Air Quality Management District said they are continuing to investigate potential sources of the stench along the canal.

“From the outset, we evaluated refineries, sewage treatment plants, nearby landfills and other types of industrial facilities,” said Terrence Mann, AQMD’s deputy executive director for compliance and enforcement. He said they are also investigating whether the smelly gas erupted naturally from the canal itself, or if it could be combined with other factors.

“We continue to work every day to identify and potentially eliminate potential sources,” Mann said.

The aviation agency worked with officials from Los Angeles County and other agencies, including the Federal Environmental Protection Agency.

However, some residents became concerned, insisting that the investigation had failed to solve the environmental mystery.

Members of the Wilmington-based Coalition for Safe Environments held a press conference in Carson on Wednesday urging federal officials to step up their engagement to determine the origin of hydrogen sulfide.

“We are all here because the crisis continues in Carson City,” said Jesse Marquez, Group CEO. Marquez said his organization was forced to act because residents of Carson and the surrounding towns of South Bay suffered from adverse health effects.

“What worries us now is the fact that it’s been four to five weeks,” Marquez said.

He and other members of the group spoke between the two houses at Dominguez’s canal, saying it was time for the EPA to take over the investigation, which county agencies are currently leading.

They held a press conference exactly one month after residents complained to the South Coast Air Quality Management District of poisonous odors that led to headaches, nausea and other symptoms.

Marquez said he was not convinced by the theory put forward by the county authorities that decaying organic material in the canal could be to blame.

“The problem is that it takes tons and tons of decaying organic matter, and it also needs to be in a confined space,” Marquez said.

Márquez said there are three key points to investigate: the origin of hydrogen sulfide in the Dominguez Canal, the potential impact of refineries, and the impact of the September earthquake on odor.

Some of the steps in the investigation outlined by Marquez would include inspecting nearby refineries, checking for corrosion and toxic chemical leaks, and inspecting abandoned wells.

County officials have said the colorless gas is unlikely to cause long-term or serious health effects in recent weeks, but have acknowledged short-term problems such as watery eyes and nausea.

Jill Johnston, associate professor in the Department of Population and Public Health at the University of Southern California, said there may be more health problems.

“Hydrogen sulfide is known to have both side and chronic effects,” even with short-term exposure, she said.

Johnston said that along with eye, ear and throat irritation, other reactions can include wheezing, asthma and allergic reactions, and high blood pressure.

Stephen Leonido-John, director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s field office in Los Angeles, said his agency has been researching the smell since around October 18 at the request of MP Nanette Barragán (Democrat from San Pedro) and the Carson city government. He said he participated in daily calls with officials from other agencies and shared his views on the investigation and how to eliminate the odor.

“It’s very, very typical of this situation where the local government, be it a county, city or state, takes the lead,” said Leonido-John. “And that EPA will be there in a consultant role to provide expertise and bring in technical experts as needed.”

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“On a daily basis, we provide information to the interagency team that deals with this,” he added.

Hydrogen sulfide levels measured by the flood control channel last month were unprecedented, said Jason Lowe, head of air monitoring at AQMD.

“Once we figured out where the largest area of ​​hydrogen sulfide emissions was during this incident, we placed a hydrogen sulfide sensor near that location.” Lowe reported on October 14 that the location was at 213 and Chico Streets in Carson.

According to Lowe, the highest measured hourly average over the night of October 16 and 17 was around 7,000 ppb.

“For context, that’s about 230 times the California inconvenience standard,” Lowe said.

It is also well above the highest levels that have been measured in recent years in the Salton Sea – around 250 ppb. Hydrogen sulfide sometimes fills the air next to a shrinking lake as winds disturb the decaying algae and other matter at the bottom of the lake.

As a result of one such event in 2012, the smell of rotten eggs spread throughout most of Southern California.

Lowe said the highest level measured at the time of the event, which has been dubbed “the great stench,” was around 150 ppb. The levels at Carson were much higher, albeit in a smaller area.

According to Lowe, levels tend to rise at night and decrease during the day. Concentration has been decreasing since mid-October. The hourly level at the Dominguez Canal fell below 60 ppb on Wednesday evening.

AQMD has other air quality monitors in nearby communities, and nearby refineries also have fence monitors.

“We have seen that the levels do drop a lot as they move away from the central Carson area of ​​the Dominguez Canal,” Lowe said. “And this goes for both nearby public monitors and some of the security monitors at refineries.”

Agency officials also measured the air for volatile organic compounds and other toxic pollutants associated with air pollution from oil. They said their results do not yet indicate elevated levels of these pollutants.

“We have not 100% ruled out any of the nearby sources,” Mann said. “We continue to search under each rock and consider all possible other sources, if not the source, contributing to this incident.”

County public works officials said the hydrogen sulphide was likely generated by plugging the canal with organic materials. They treated the channel with a biodegradable neutralizer.

The decline in hydrogen sulfide levels indicates that these efforts are having a positive impact, said EPA’s Leonido-John. There are also fewer odor complaints from local authorities.

“Everything I saw, what they showed us, definitely indicates that the problem is directly related to the Dominguez Canal,” said Leonido-John. Factors can include things such as leaves that have collected in the canal, as well as storm runoff from streets in an industrial area washing material into the watercourse.

According to him, local authorities discussed plans to take sediment samples from the bottom of the canal.

“It is believed that sediment or organic material settles at the bottom of this canal,” he said, and then the aquatic environment was deprived of oxygen, which allowed bacteria to thrive in the environment and release smelly gas, just like in sewage treatment plants.

“This does not necessarily mean that there is some other source,” said Leonido-John. “But we still haven’t seen anything.”

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