SANTA ANA, Calif. – A strong rotten egg smell had Southern Californians plugging their noses and crying foul Monday as air quality investigators scrambled to determine if the sulfurous scent was coming from the Salton Sea.
Investigators from the South Coast Air Quality Management District were in the field tracking the stench after being flooded with 200 complaints since midnight from across much of the district’s 10,000 square miles, said Sam Atwood, spokesman for the agency.
The odor could be coming from the Salton Sea, a 376-square-mile saltwater lake about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles. Another source could be a wastewater treatment plant, Atwood said, but officials have not found any indication that’s the case.
“The odor was extremely intense,” said Janis Dawson of the Salton Sea Authority. “We actually thought that somebody had an accident, a broken sewage main, that’s how strong it was.”
The dying sea, a major resting stop for migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway, has been plagued by increasing salinity. It was created in 1905 when floodwaters broke through a Colorado River irrigation canal.
The sea had a fish die-off within the past week and that, combined with strong storms in the area late Sunday, could have churned up the water and unleashed bacteria from the sea floor that caused the stench, said Dawson. Gusts reached 55 mph during the windstorm and accompanying downpour, she said.
The smell doesn’t pose any health hazards, but it generated an explosion of quips on social media, as residents from Riverside County to the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles complained and sought information.
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