Drought Brings Repulsive Odor to Carson Neighborhoods

For weeks, residents of Carson, California have been dealing with a noxious odor. Los Angeles County officials say the smell is caused by hydrogen sulfide or “sewer gas” from rotting vegetation in the Dominguez Channel thanks to the drought. With low flowing water, debris in the channel isn’t exposed to enough oxygen and bad bacteria thrive.

The Carson City Council declared the smell a public nuisance on Oct. 11. Residents had been complaining of nausea and headaches since at least Oct. 3. South Coast Air Quality Management officials didn’t notify the L.A. County Department of Public Works until Oct. 7. An investigation then had to be carried out to determine the source.

Officials began spraying the hydrogen sulfide with an odor neutralizer on Friday, but it takes several days to work. In the meantime, the city and county are both offering reimbursements for hotel costs and air purifiers.

“We are behind, and I think as a city government we should just admit our mistake,” Carson Mayor Pro Tem Jim Dear acknowledged Thursday. “We should have acted immediately.”

Officials say the level of hydrogen sulfide in the atmosphere isn’t hazardous, but some residents are skeptical. One pregnant woman told the Los Angeles Times she wonders if there could be any effects on her baby. 

The city is no stranger to environmental fallout. In 2020, a Carson petroleum refinery went up in flames. It burned for hours, emitting toxic gases into the atmosphere.

Like the explosion, Carson’s bout with noxious fumes has underscored the problem of environmental injustice in communities of color. Carson is 37% Latino, 27% Asian, 24% Black and 7% white.

See also:

The drought in California this summer was the worst on record

How fires, dry conditions are drastically increasing air pollution across California