Carson smell persists as fed-up residents confront elected officials

·3 min read
Carson, CA - October 25: Life-long Carson resident Brandi Murdock, right, speaks with California state Sen. Steven Bradford about the continuing foul odor in the city, following a press conference with Carson Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes, at Carson City Hall, in Carson, CA, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021. The Carson City Council urged Los Angeles County and Governor Newsom to each issue a proclamation of emergency. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)
Lifelong Carson resident Brandi Murdock, right, speaks with state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) about the continuing foul odor in the city, after a news conference with Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes at City Hall. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

As Carson Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes briefed reporters inside City Hall on Monday, she was nearly drowned out by protesters sick of a noxious smell that has permeated the area for more than three weeks.

"We pay you to represent us!" one protester shouted.

That morning, the City Council had declared a local emergency, which Davis-Holmes said “would help cut through the red tape," secure help from the governor's office and provide more money for hotel rooms and air filters.

But for many city residents, who have complained of headaches, nausea and other ailments, that was too little, too late.

Since the odor, which has been likened to rotten eggs, vomit, farts or body odor, was first reported Oct. 3, government efforts to address it have been plagued by delays.

The smell is emanating from the Dominguez Channel, where decaying vegetation and marine life has built up, partly because of the drought, creating noxious hydrogen sulfide gas.

Eight Carson residents have filed a lawsuit alleging that a warehouse fire caused the smell.

Crews from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works did not begin spraying the channel with a biodegradable neutralizer until Oct. 15.

At first, officials said the odor would dissipate in three to five days. Last Friday, a week after the spraying began, they said they were not committing to a date.

Public health recommendations have fluctuated too.

Initially, residents were told to close their windows. Health officials said hydrogen sulfide levels were too low to cause long-term problems, though headaches and nausea could result.

But last week, they advised residents to avoid prolonged outdoor exercise between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.

City and county officials have instituted reimbursement programs for air purifiers and hotel rooms. Free hotel rooms and purifiers are also available.

One bright spot may be a storm that drenched the Los Angeles area on Monday.

The rain “will absolutely cause a flow in the channel” that will move stale water and the dead organic matter believed to be causing the smell, L.A. County Public Works Director Mark Pestrella told the City Council.

On Monday afternoon, the surface of the channel remained glassy, with little visible water movement. The smell was noticeable there and in other parts of the city.

Earlier Monday, as rain fell outside City Hall, protesters peppered elected officials, including Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Carson) and state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), with questions.

Frank Saldana, an assistant football coach at Carson High School, said the City Council should have declared a local emergency much earlier, which might have sped up the odor elimination efforts.

“I’m just out here fighting for our residents,” said Saldana, who has lived in the city for 46 years.

Pamela Brown, 60, said she spent five days in a Long Beach hotel before returning home a few days ago to the same “rotten smell.”

She has since purchased an air purifier and applied for reimbursement for her hotel expenses. She hasn’t ruled out going back to a hotel.

“My grandson coughs in the evening, and it’s terrible,” said Brown, a Realtor who has battled headaches, a sore throat and an earache. “There’s something going on, and they want us to believe this is all OK.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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