Source of mystery odor still not found; some say Salton Sea to blame
A mail carrier in San Bernardino said it smelled like rotten eggs. A woman in Rancho Cucamonga blamed it on dairy cows in Chino. A man in Rialto said he couldn’t smell it at all. And about 60 miles west in Los Angeles, curious callers in the north end of the San Fernando Valley were calling the Fire Department seeking answers.
They were among thousands across the Southland on Monday to catch a whiff of what officials said was the result of biological decay, possibly from the Salton Sea, and an unusual wind that pushed it west.
Fontana resident Walter Martinez, 33, may have best described the foul odor wafting through the Inland area.
“It’s kind of funky,” he said. “If I go outside and take a breath, I cough. I feel an air irritation.”
Air quality officials from around the region fielded phone calls throughout the day from residents concerned about the smell.
Field inspectors with the South Coast Air Quality Management District in Diamond Bar spent the day investigating the possible causes of what they described as “widespread sulfur odors.”
“Fish kills, algae blooms and other biologic conditions in lakes can cause strong odors,” said spokesman Sam Atwood, in a news release. “Industrial facilities such as wastewater plants also can cause sulfur odors. At this time AQMD hasn’t confirmed any source as the cause of the widespread odor.”
Those who smelled it had their own theories.
“It’s awful,” said Roberta Marroquin, a 52-year-old Rancho Cucamonga resident. “You know what, I think it’s the cows from Chino.”
Some experts said the Salton Sea – about 100 miles southeast of San Bernardino – may be to blame.
“It’s an unusual wind pattern that sent the Salton Sea smell pattern north,” said Jack Crayon, an environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Game in Bermuda Dunes.
Crayon said the odor occurs when there’s an “upwelling” of the waters in the shallow sea, bringing with it the smell of bacteria that has broken down without oxygen.
“It’s anaerobic,” he said. “Bacteria produce gasses as things break down. They stay in the lower level of the lake and build up over time. As those lower layers come up, they are releasing gasses from decompositions that have been gathering from weeks at a time. That’s what the smell is.”
Andrew Schlange, interim general manager of the Salton Sea Authority, said the shallow body of water, which reaches 60 feet at its deepest, experienced a recent fish die-off and the high winds may have turned over material in the bottom of the sea.
“If this odor is coming from the Salton Sea – and I stress if – that would probably be what happened at the sea from the winds last night,” Schlange said.
Marroquin wasn’t thrilled with the explanation.
“That’s awful, because then you’re breathing it,” she said.
Residents in San Bernardino apparently bombarded the Police Department early in the day with phone calls about the odor.
“It was like every other phone call was about the smell,” said Michael Fox, dispatch supervisor. “Gas leaks is what we heard. The other thing was maybe drug labs.”
Fox said the department directed callers to the AQMD for accurate information. When some called in about asthma problems, the department directed them to stay indoors and avoid exercise, he said.
The Los Angeles Fire Department reportedly started receiving phone calls early Monday morning, mostly from the Foothill and north Valley areas of the city.
Because the source of the smell was unidentified, there was nothing for firefighters to check out, said spokesman Brian Humphrey.
John Bradford, a 69-year-old Rialto resident, said he didn’t smell the odor. He was more concerned about local drinking water, which he described as tasting like “dirty socks and underwear.”
“Taxpayers should get better water for their dime,” Bradford said. “I’m not saying add a room on to everybody’s house, with a Jacuzzi and BMW. Just get us some good drinking water.”