It has been well over a month since residents of Carson and surrounding communities began to complain of an overwhelming sulfur-like smell, comparable to rotten eggs, melting plastic, sewage, or some corpses.
The stench, produced by hydrogen sulfide that air quality officials detected at extremely high levels, made people sick with nausea, coughing, headaches and watery eyes, and forced many residents to leave their homes.
The authorities have a dominant theory: that the pungent gas emanates from an accumulation of decaying vegetation and marine life in the Dominguez Canal made worse by the drought. But there are still no definitive answers on what caused the smell, why it persisted, or how best to get rid of it.
What is clear is that the local government response has been unacceptably slow, uncoordinated and inattentive to the health and well-being of the people.
Residents should be able to live and breathe in their own homes without choking on the stench of death and rot, and are right to be outraged. They deserve the preparation, care and urgency of city and county leaders, not an attitude that suggests it’s just a bad smell, wait and it will go away.
Although county health officials say they are not concerned about the long-term health effects and that there is no imminent danger, it’s not as if residents are at risk. to insignificant amounts of a harmless chemical.
Hydrogen sulfide is a toxic compound with immediate and chronic health effects, and air quality officials have measured it at levels of up to 7,000 parts per billion, about 230 times the norm. nuisance from the state. To put this in perspective, the nose can detect this chemical at less than 1 part per billion.
The smells seem to be improving, but hydrogen sulfide readings along the canal still regularly exceed state standards.
Air quality managers, who have received more than 4,200 odor complaints in more than half a dozen communities, are assessing whether oil refineries, water treatment plants or other industrial facilities in the region could also contribute. But they have not yet determined which sources to blame and have taken no coercive action.
Community members are justified in raising concerns about environmental racism, saying this is just another example of the second-class treatment that communities of color experience when exposed to higher levels of the chemical. pollution.
Carson, who is predominantly Latino, Asian and black, and other neighboring communities in the shadow of sprawling refineries and heavy industry already face a disproportionate concentration of environmental risks, including explosions and rumbling fires, leakage of foul-smelling chemicals and toxic substances in progress. air pollution.
Putrid smells from the Dominguez Canal periodically wafted through Carson before disappearing a day or two later. This may have led officials to assume that this too would clear up on its own.
This may be one of the reasons why the Los Angeles County Public Works Department, which is responsible for maintaining the Dominguez Canal, took nearly two weeks after the odor was reported to the first time to act to stop it, by spraying an odor neutralizer.
County officials let residents down by reversing overly optimistic timelines as to when the smell would dissipate. And they took too long to set up a payment program for thousands of affected households to buy air filters, purifiers or move to hotels.
County supervisors finally Tuesday declared a local emergency and asked Gov. Gavin Newsom for disaster help – not because pollution levels were getting worse, but because they had lasted so long. Some community groups want the US Environmental Protection Agency to take over.
It is not clear that withdrawing the response from local agencies would solve this problem any faster. But all levels of government must begin to act with more urgency to provide residents with as much immediate relief as possible and get to the bottom of this rotten situation.