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Finally, Cause of City's 'Stench of Death' Is Revealed

Fire at California warehouse filled with beauty products led to plant die-off, which led to hydrogen sulfide in the air
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 7, 2021 10:25 AM CST
Finally, Cause of City's 'Stench of Death' Is Revealed
This Oct. 21, 2021, image, shows the Dominguez Channel flowing through Carson, Calif.   (Dean Musgrove/The Orange County Register via AP)

In early October, residents in Carson, Calif., started picking up on a noxious smell emanating from the Dominguez Channel, with dozens of complaints called in daily to the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Some even noted they were suffering from fatigue, headaches, and respiratory issues, reports the Guardian. Now, two months later, officials have an answer on the source: a fire that started on Sept. 30 at a local warehouse filled with beauty and wellness products. It wasn't the dayslong fire itself, however, that left the lingering rotten-egg-like odor, which some have likened to "the stench of death."

Instead, the chemicals that ended up flowing into the channel as a result of the fire killed off plants in the waterway, which caused toxic hydrogen sulfide gas to be produced. And not just a little hydrogen sulfide: Per the air quality agency, at one point levels peaked at nearly 7,000 parts per billion, which is about 230 times higher than what the state's nuisance standard allows. It was bad enough that 3,000-plus people had to temporarily relocate to hotels, with tens of thousands of air purifiers sent to local residences. One mom tells the Washington Post that she found herself waking up every day "feeling like I left my [stove] gas on," and that one day she even found her 3-year-old daughter lying on the floor, complaining of an "owie."

Four companies linked to the warehouse have since received violation notices, and at least eight people have filed class-action lawsuits against them. An LA County fire inspector said at the time of the fire that it appeared to have spread through rubbing alcohol wipes stored in the warehouse, per KTLA, while one of the suits also points to ethanol-based hand sanitizer. Meanwhile, costs related to the channel fiasco—including not only the hotel rooms and air purifiers, but also the cleanup itself—have reached nearly $54 million, and the public works chief for Los Angeles County says that number could jump to almost $145 million if the cleanup continues through the early spring. (More fire stories.)

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