Member-supported news for Southern California
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Support for KPCC comes from:

Pacific Ocean methane burp could be source of Westside odor

Photo by Kevin Dinkel via Flickr Creative Commons

A gassy smell that recently permeated LA’s coastal communities most likely came from the Pacific Ocean, not a broken gas line, a Los Angeles Fire Department spokeswoman said Monday.

Friday’s sulphuric smell from Santa Monica to Venice to West L.A. was so nasty a couple Westside  schools kept kids indoors for part of the school day Friday.

“We were outside during recess and started smelling kind of rotten eggs and something like sewage,” said Maria Vonderhaar, a teacher’s aide at Mar Vista Elementary School.

The school called children indoors for about ten minutes, she said. A few complained of nausea.

The Los Angeles Fire Department deployed gas monitors to sniff the air Friday. They found only methane, which is odorless. They did not find other chemicals such as the foul-smelling additive known as mercaptans that makes commercial natural gas easier to detect, said spokeswoman Margaret Stewart.

Southern California Gas Company searched the area around the 500 block of South Venice Blvd., but found no gas leak, said spokesman Chris Gilbride.

The odor could have come from decomposing seaweed or algae releasing methane as well as rotten-egg smelling sulphur compounds called dimethyl sulfide.

Orange County coastal cities have had similar odor attacks in recent years.

The odd smell comes at a time when Los Angeles-area residents have a heightened sensitivity to reports of gas leaks, given the disastrous blowout of a gas storage well near Porter Ranch in late 2015. A ruptured well at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility caused about 8,000 households to evacuate the area until the leak was capped four months later.

Activists and environmentalists who want to halt the use of fossil fuels like natural gas have seized on reports of illnesses stemming from the Porter Ranch blowout to call for gas storage fields to be closed.

The group Food & Water Watch hosted about 80 people at a meeting Saturday in Playa del Rey focused on the SoCal Gas storage field in that neighborhood, said organizer Andrea Leon-Grossmann. She smelled the rotten-egg odor Friday and said a methane monitor she has installed in her back yard near Westwood and Pico showed a spike in methane levels.

“It was a faint odor at first and then it got stronger and then a metallic taste in my mouth,” Leon-Grossmann said of the odor, which took a few hours to dissipate.

She said she called the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s reporting line and spoke with two of its inspectors who came out to verify the smell.