What is that smell?


The mysterious foul stench that filled the nostrils of Old Town residents last Sunday was all too familiar—the city first received complaints about a year ago. Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said it has definitely been a long term problem. Assistant City Manager Patrick Gallegos said, “We have been working with AQMD since the City first received resident complaints last year.”

Seal Beach isn’t alone. According to Atwood, the Air Quality District has received complaints about the mystery smell in Long Beach and other beach cities.

Gallegos said that at the Aug. 14 City Council meeting, District One Councilwoman Ellery Deaton would ask staff to put the issue on a future agenda.

The Air District received 46 complaints on Sunday, according to Atwood. He said the AQMD had not been able to identify the source, but air regulators did have some clues. According to Atwood, there were some indications that at least some of the odors have been coming from an offshore source such as a ship—perhaps an oil tanker. Atwood said that traces of petroleum compounds had been found in air samples collected in Seal Beach. He said the AQMD had looked at wind patterns and the location of ships at the times when odor complaints have been received. The Air District will be working with the Coast Guard to trace the odors.

Deaton urged residents to call 1-800-CUTSMOG to report an odor when they smell it. She said she called the district at about 9:30 p.m., Sunday, and received a call back from an inspector around 11 p.m. By then, the odor was gone. Deaton said she wants to improve the response time. “We’ve got to have someone here when the odor appears,” Deaton said.

Seal Beach businessman Steven Stasoiski, who has been investigating the odor since September 2016, said, “The best action to take when encountering the odor is to immediately submit a complaint via 1-800-288-7664 or http://www3.aqmd.gov/webappl/complaintsystemonline/NewComplaint.aspx The complaint process is quick. Unfortunately, the AQMD reaction is not always swift because many of these odor events occur during off business hours. Also, the odor can dissipate before AQMD investigators arrive. The next best action may be to notify public officials who can escalate the concern and corroborate with other agencies of influence.”

Seal Beach resident Ranee Alison hasn’t been satisfied with the city’s response to the odor issue. “Our city’s quiet. Nothing’s been said.”

Alison expressed outrage that the city’s most recent Environmental Quality Control Board meeting was canceled due to a lack of business.

However, Gallegos said, “Until AQMD determines the cause of the issue, there is nothing for EQCB to study at this point.”

She also said the smell had been moving and has appeared at different times. She encouraged residents to contact her online at the Nextdoor site to help her compile specific dates and times when the odor is detected. “I want to have the proofs right in front of me,” she said.

Deaton and Atwood both made it clear that you need to report the smell when you smell it. An AQMD inspector can’t issue a notice of violation unless the inspector also smells the odor, with a witness, and traces it back to the source.

The AQMD serves four counties, an area of 10,743 square miles, according to the agency website.

What is that smell?