Stench across Southland blamed on Salton Sea fish *

* 9:45 p.m. update: AQMD buys into Salton Sea theory on bad smell

salton-sea-natl-geo.jpgNot great publicity for Salton Sea boosters, but then they are used to that. So many residents across the inland parts of the Los Angeles Basin began complaining about a bad, sulfur-like smell this morning — even clogging 911 phone lines — that officials were forced to look into it. The meme quickly hit the local media that it was due to a fish die-off at the Salton Sea, combined with the winds that brought desert heat and a bit of monsoonal moisture into the basin. Many reports repeating the Salton Sea concept just vaguely cited "officials" but at least one person with a title went on the record. It's Julie Hutchinson, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "I'm 99.9% sure it's the Salton Sea,'' Hutchinson told the LA Times. "It's just a nasty, funky smell from the Salton Sea. … We've had it before.''

Earlier in the day, South Coast Air Quality Management District executive Barry Wallerstein briefed his board vis email:

This morning staff received a large number of phone calls to our 1-800-CUT-SMOG line regarding a sulfur/rotten material smell that is occurring over a large geographical area within our air district. The areas include Riverside, Corona, Chino Hills, Pomona and other cities. We have dispatched field inspectors to try and determine the origin of the smells and have brought in additional staff to help field calls since Mondays are normally a day off, other than for a skeleton crew. We have also been in conversation with fire officials who are concerned that a large number of the calls they are receiving is preventing others to utilize the 911 line for emergencies. We will be issuing a brief press release shortly and posting said release on our web page. We are also responding to media requests regarding this matter.

My best guess as to a cause, given the large geographic area, is a die-off within a substantial body of water, such as a lake, with sulfur-producing bacteria as the origin of the cause. Another possible cause would be a major upset at a large sewage treatment facility. However, both of these possibilities are just guesses. We will know more when we get a report back from our field staff. I will update the Board as appropriate later this afternoon.


The AQMD then posted an advisory omitting any mention of the Salton Sea, the shrinking inland lake south of Indio and Palm Springs fed by farm runoff.

Field inspectors with the South Coast Air Quality Management District are in the field today investigating possible causes of widespread sulfur odors.

Since around midnight last night, AQMD has received more than 100 calls reporting a strong, foul rotten egg/sulfur odor. Residents have complained from a very wide area including the Inland Empire and much of the Los Angeles Basin.

Fish kills, algae blooms and other biologic conditions in lakes can cause strong odors. Industrial facilities such as wastewater plants also can cause sulfur odors. At this time AQMD hasn’t confirmed any source as the cause of the widespread odor.

The Los Angeles Fire Department also has received numerous calls about the smell.

Oh yes, this is reason enough to roll out our links on the notorious Westside stench of a few years ago:
Remember the mystery stench?
Hey, they got a better stench
That stench is spreading
Our Iraq correspondent's nose knows
Mystery of the stench deepens
That Westside stench

Photo: Gerd Ludwig in National Geographic story

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