Air quality officials have led a land developer and contractor over a chemical spill in the Compton area that caused hundreds of complaints of persistent gas-like odors in a large area of Los Angeles and Orange counties.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued quotes Friday alleging that developer Bridge Point Gardena Land LLC and contractor OFRS Inc. caused a public nuisance in violation of air pollutant release rules.
The Air District said the spill occurred Thursday at a construction site on an empty lot and was caused by an attempt to move a small storage tank containing mercaptan, a pungent chemical odor added to natural gas, to aid in leak detection. Firefighters said the site is an abandoned oil field near South Main Street and Rosecrans Avenue in an unincorporated area near Compton.
The South Coast District said it had received more than 220 odor complaints from residents and schools in more than a dozen communities, including parts of Los Angeles, Compton, Carson, Paramount, Lakewood, and Long Beach, and as far as Anaheim, more than 15 miles east of the Burial.
"Mercaptan is sulfur-based and has a bad smell," said a press release from the South Coast Air District. "It's powerful too – a few drops can cause odors that are carried over great distances."
For the people in the region, the foul smells came on top of the poor air quality from devastating smoke that covered much of the state.
Jason Sanchez, 23, a Cal State Fullerton student who lives in Norwalk, said he smelled a "strong, gaseous odor" for most of Friday. When the windows were open, "it was almost as if someone had left the knob and turned a stove a little in an accident or opened the oven, which could go out the smell of gas."
A phone message and an email to OFRS on Saturday were not immediately returned. Bridge Point Gardena Land could not be immediately reached for comment on the violations which may result in civil sanctions or legal action if agreement is not reached.
Firefighters responded to a reported gas leak at 11:20 a.m. Thursday, but instead found a small amount of mercaptan, which created a natural gas-like odor that "permeates the immediate vicinity and east-wind areas," according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department. Ron Haralson said in a press release.
Haralson said "the smell is not a gas leak and does not represent a fire or health concern," but as a precaution, residents nearby may want to stay indoors until the persistent smells are gone. He said the spill has stopped and the tank of mercaptan is due to be removed on Monday.
District airborne inspectors dispatched to the site noticed strong mercaptan smells but were unable to estimate the amount of material spilled. They used handheld monitors and did not detect any natural gas, but collected samples that were taken to a laboratory for analysis.
Mercaptan was one of the chemicals released during a month-long methane leak in Aliso Canyon in late 2015 and early 2016 that sickened and displaced thousands in the San Fernando Valley neighborhood of Porter Ranch and the surrounding communities.