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UPDATE: Widespread stink mostly blamed on Salton Sea

Some doubt odor could travel so far

Posted: September 10, 2012 10:43 a.m.
Updated: September 10, 2012 6:40 p.m.
In a Dec. 27, 2010, photo, a fallen tree supports numerous heron nests in the mud of Southern California's Salton Sea. In a Dec. 27, 2010, photo, a fallen tree supports numerous heron nests in the mud of Southern California's Salton Sea.
In a Dec. 27, 2010, photo, a fallen tree supports numerous heron nests in the mud of Southern California's Salton Sea.

Residents in a wide swath of Southern California held their noses and wondered what the stink was Monday as a sulfur smell permeated the region.

And by Monday evening, the source of the stink remained something of a mystery, despite a day spent searching and speculating.

“I opened my patio door and just got hammered with this odor,” Craig Eichman, a Valencia resident, said Monday.
“It smell like hardboiled eggs — if you don’t like eggs,” Eichman said.

A health care worker at La Mesa Junior High School said the stench was present in Canyon Country, as well, although it had no ill effects on the youngsters.

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. Margarito Robles said reports of the odor had come in from Simi Valley to the Inland Empire, and some reports indicated the stink had been smelled in Arizona.

“The good news is there are no harmful effects,” Robles said.

By afternoon most experts seemed to agree that the rotten-egg smell was coming from the Salton Sea, where a recent die-off of fish combined with high temperatures, a monsoonal air flow from the southeast and sudden winds Sunday night may have driven the stench over a wide area.

“It’s something that’s normal for us,” said Julie Hutchinson, battalion chief with the Department of Forestry and Fire Service in Riverside County. “I was surprised when we got so many calls about this.”

The South Coast Air Quality Management District was charged with finding the source, but by late Monday afternoon it issued a statement saying, “At this time AQMD hasn’t confirmed any source as the cause of the widespread odor.”

Fish die-offs, algae blooms and “other biologic conditions” in a lake could be the cause, the statement said, but so could industry like wastewater treatment plants.

The AQMD reported more than 100 calls about the stink, and Los Angeles Police Department officials issued a request that residents stop calling 911 with reports of the bad smell.

Some schools in Los Angeles kept children inside during recess to avoid exposure to the foul air.

Several agencies expressed puzzlement over the persistent stink.

The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Department sent deputies out to north Valencia to hunt for the source until it became apparent the problem was more widespread.

“The odor is not from the Gas Company or any projects that we’re working on,” said Anne Silva, spokeswoman for Southern California Gas Company.

Carol Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Oxnard office, noted the monsoonal air flow is from the southeast and speculated the source was there. The Salton Sea is some 100 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

But Janis Dawson, administrative assistant with the Salton Sea Authority, said it would be extremely unusual for the stink to be borne so far away.

“At this point we can neither confirm nor deny that it’s emanating from the Salton Sea,” Dawson said late Monday afternoon.

On the other hand, she said, the joint powers authority that works to improve conditions at the lake wouldn’t shirk responsibility.

“If they have a letter of complaint, let us have it — we have a website — because that gives us leverage with the Legislature to say, ‘Look, we have this problem, let us get it fixed,’” she said.

But for Battalion Chief Hutchinson, there’s no doubt the source of the pervasive rotten-egg smell.

The Salton Sea — an accidentally created lake with no outflow choked with fertilizer runoff, with frequent fish die-offs and increasing salinity — was the culprit, she said.

“It’s no different than when you cook something at home and things get a little steamy — broccoli comes to mind,” she said. “But when you cook something with an odor, and things get steamy, it tends to make the smell a little stronger.”




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