Foul odor may linger in El Segundo through August after massive sewage spill; residents complain of burning eyes, rashes

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The Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Playa Del Rey is seen in 2016.(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

The Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Playa Del Rey is seen in 2016.(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

A foul odor that has sickened some El Segundo residents is likely to persist for weeks while repairs are made to the Los Angeles city treatment plant that was the site of a massive sewage spill last week.

Repair work at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Playa del Rey, the city of L.A.’s largest, will continue through at least the end of August after flooding resulted in 17 million gallons of untreated sewage leaking into the ocean July 11. Miles of beaches were closed to swimming until July 14 as a result.

El Segundo residents may experience construction noise, odor, smoke and flaring during the repair process, the treatment plant said Wednesday.

The city of El Segundo says it asked the city of L.A. provide vouchers or reimbursements to residents living near the spill, who have complained of negative health impacts like rashes, nausea and burning eyes due to the smell.

The request was denied, but El Segundo said Wednesday it was asking L.A. and the plant to reconsider since some residents are unable to sleep in their homes. Updates will be posted to the El Segundo city website.

Hyperion said the plant’s flooding was nearly catastrophic and resulted in significant areas being submerged, causing major damage to its equipment and treatment processes. Secondary facilities are now being used to treat waste.

The city of L.A. is working “around the clock to pump wastewater out of inundated facilities, sanitize facilities and equipment, and mitigate hazardous conditions inside the facilities caused by the flooding,” according to a statement from Hyperion. But it’s still expected to be a month or more before the plant is fully functional.

The site is also home to the Hyperion Bioenergy Facility, which uses a byproduct of wastewater treatment to create renewable energy. But because the flooding significantly reduced the amount of byproduct — called digester gas — there’s not enough to run the plant.

The unused gas will be combusted under a process permitted by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, which may produce visible smoke or flames. The byproducts of this combustion are carbon dioxide and water, Hyperion said.

“Hyperion is taking all measures to minimize and mitigate impacts (odors, noise, etc.) to the community during the cleanup and repairs to fully restore functionality of the plant,” according to the plant’s statement.

The Hyperion plant is not only the city’s largest but also its oldest sewage treatment facility, in operation since 1894. An average of 275 million gallons of wastewater flow into the plant on any given dry-weather day.

Although the 17 million gallons of sewage that seeped out is a large amount, it still doesn’t match up to L.A.’s largest spill. That was in 1998, when more than 30 million gallons of sewage spilled during El Niño storms, according to the Los Angeles Times.

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