After nearly three weeks of breathing noxious fumes, a group of Carson-area residents on Friday filed legal claims against a warehouse owner and lessee, alleging that they helped bring about the intense foul odor that’s been lingering over their city.
The lawsuit, filed with Los Angeles Superior Court, alleges that Art Naturals, a Gardena-based beauty supply company, stored ethanol-based hand sanitizers at a warehouse in Carson and that these products got into the channel after a fire broke out at the warehouse on Sept. 30.
Warehouse owner Liberty Property and its parent company Prologis were also named defendants in the suit.
The suit alleges that the defendants maintained “unsafe conditions” in storing highly flammable hand sanitizers, which they say led to the fire. Los Angeles County fire officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, which burned for more than eight hours and injured at least three firefighters.
The suit alleges the warehouse company and the beauty supply company did not make any attempts to remove the debris from the fire, including leftover “uncombusted ethanol-based hand sanitizer,” which the Federal Drug Administration deemed carried “unacceptable levels of known carcinogens.”
In the days after the warehouse fire, that debris found its way into the Dominguez Channel where it sat in stagnant water and had a toxic effect on the vegetation in the channel, which produced toxic, foul-smelling hydrogen sulfide gas, the lawsuit alleged.
Residents have described the odor as something akin to rotten eggs. The gas is being created by a natural phenomenon called anaerobic digestion which occurs when bacteria break down vegetation when there’s a lack of oxygen in the water, county officials have said.
The colorless, odorous gas can cause symptoms including headaches and nausea, officials said. Residents have reported experiencing congestion, dizziness and sore throat, among other symptoms since the smell started.
During an online news conference Friday, Mark Pestrella, the county’s public works director and chief engineer of the flood control district, said an investigation into the odor found the presence of chemicals that are contributing to the problem. Officials, however, did not identify those chemicals.
The stench has mainly affected the city of Carson and has been most concentrated near the South Avalon Boulevard exit of the 405 Freeway. Surrounding communities, including Wilmington, Gardena, Torrance, Redondo Beach and parts of Long Beach have also been impacted by the smell.
Several Los Angeles County agencies have been investigating the pungent smell since Oct. 6, including the South Coast Air Quality Management District. The Carson City Council has since declared the odor a public nuisance.
Late last week, county officials started spraying a biodegradable deodorizer into the Dominguez Channel and said the smell would go away within three to five days. But that timeline has been changed after county officials reported low supplies of the chemical being used to neutralize the smell.
It’s unclear when the pungent smell will go away, and residents are fed up.
The plaintiffs in the suit want an injunction directing the companies to pay for relocation and future medical monitoring expenses as a result of the nauseating gas, as well as unspecified damages.
“I can’t help but feel we are battling chemical warfare in our own homes,” Monique Alvarez, a Carson resident who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement. “The negative impact to our bodies, minds, and spirits is so great.”
The lawsuit was filed by Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy, which has been involved in public health-related lawsuits in the past. Recently, the firm settled a $1.8 billion lawsuit with Southern California Gas Co. and its parent company, Sempra Energy, regarding a massive release of natural gas into the Porter Ranch neighborhood in Los Angeles.