Carson mayor on why foul odor is still lingering, and whether breathing it harms your health

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Caleigh Wells

Since October, the South LA city of Carson has been plagued by a noxious odor. “I breathe everything you breathe, so it's not that I'm sitting in some Eiffel Tower and I'm not breathing the same air. I'm having the same concerns that you are, and I'm staying right here in the city. … I want a resolution to this,” says Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes. Photo by Shutterstock.

Residents of Carson, a city in South LA, have spent the past several weeks enduring a smell they’ve compared to rotting eggs, vomit, and farts. The odor is coming from a little river called the Dominguez Channel. Right now it doesn't have much water in it, but it’s full of dead plants and rotting marine animals that are releasing hydrogen sulfide gas.

Residents say they’re getting headaches and nausea. Now the city has declared a state of emergency and is waiting to hear whether the governor will take action.

Carson Mayor Lula Davis-Holmes tells Press Play that the smell has diminished lately thanks to rain, but some hot days are coming.

The county’s health director has said there would be no long-term health effects when inhaling the hydrogen sulfide gas from the river. Davis-Holmes says it’s unclear what would happen among people with underlying medical problems, and she says public health experts advise residents not stay outside for long periods of time.

The mayor says Carson provided more than 100 air filters to residents, and relocated about 600 residents to hotels outside the city when air filters did not work. To move residents, Carson used $300,000 from its general fund and will be reimbursed by the LA County’s Department of Public Works.

Why is the Dominguez Channel, which is under the county’s jurisdiction, in its current condition? The mayor points to decaying vegetation, heat, lower water levels, and illegal arson products (from a recently burned down warehouse) that floated into the channel. 

“I'm not a scientist, but this to me is deferred maintenance and human error. … [This channel] needs to be completely remediated and … that's going to take a long process. That's why this proclamation was issued, so we could hopefully bypass some of these bureaucracies.” 

Lula Davis-Holmes says she’s been in Carson for more than 40 years, and this is the first time the odor has lasted this long.

She says she tells residents: “I live here in the City of Carson too. I breathe everything you breathe, so it's not that I'm sitting in some Eiffel Tower and I'm not breathing the same air. I'm having the same concerns that you are, and I'm staying right here in the city. … I want a resolution to this.” 

She emphasizes that her team has been proactive in addressing the problem, and will continue working until the odor leaves.