By Andrew J. Campa / Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Outside Carson City Hall, a small crowd of residents could not completely agree on how to describe the stench that has plagued their city.
“It’s like a dirty sock,” said Jacob Avery, a Carson resident and football coach at Banning High School in Wilmington, laughing. “I do not know; it is like an unclean dressing room.”
Resident Sarah Fong threw a drop of menthol cough into her mouth to fight what she described as the stench of dead fish and dirty diapers.
Fong jokingly pointed to the marketing in Sall’s bag that she carried inside her bag that promised “maximum strength” and “relief” in capital letters.
“If only,” she said. “God, if only.”
The debate after a demonstration last month – a little frivolous amid weeks of disgusting winds from the Dominguez Canal – struck a question that stinking cities across Southern California have faced for years: “How do we describe an attack on the nostrils?”
Especially when places in Los Angeles and beyond have had their nostrils attacked by all sorts of pus.
“We have not really developed a good and accurate language about scents,” said Emily Friedman, an associate professor of English at Auburn University who has studied the history and language of smell. “For Western languages, it ‘s always,’ it smells like rotten eggs or grandma ‘, instead of actually describing the smell itself.”
The Carson incident immediately drew comparisons to 2012’s “Big Stink.”
That year, a fish death and a deep sediment surface from the Salton Sea, located about 164 miles southeast of Los Angeles, sent waves of hydrogen sulfide odors across Southern California.
Emergency calls were made from Santa Clarita to Riverside in Ventura County and Palm Springs.
Residents later complained of a “sulfur” odor, along with the smell of rotten eggs, rotten mold and body odor.
The most incredible aspect, for many people, was the distance from the strong storm winds that blew the wind.
“It’s very unusual for any wind to be so pervasive, from the Coachella Valley to Los Angeles County,” said Sam Atwood, a spokesman for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. “We are talking about more than 100 miles. “I do not remember ever confirming a wind that traveled that distance.”
At the heart of both winds was the same culprit: hydrogen sulfide. And for its effect on the olfactory system, there is no debate.
“We all agree that this is a terrible smell,” said Carson City Council member Jawane Hilton. “We just can’t agree on exactly what we’re smelling.”
The hydrogen sulfide that evokes the foul odor at Carson, about 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, was created by rotten vegetation and marine life stuck in the canal, according to LA County officials. What has confused them is the duration of an event first reported on October 3rd.
Jill Johnston, an assistant professor of population science and public health at the University of Southern California, studied gas seven years ago in a miserable environment – giant pork manure pits in East North Carolina.
“Many of the natural causes of hydrogen sulfide come from anaerobic digestion, which is essentially the decay of organic matter in the absence of oxygen,” Johnston said.
Johnston similarly described the smell of hydrogen sulfide as “rotten eggs” and “hard.” She was sympathetic to Carson residents, who were told by county officials that short-term exposure to low levels of hydrogen sulfide is not harmful.
“A worsening of asthma can potentially lead people straight [emergency room]”We also know it can suppress the immune system,” she said.
Six years ago, Porter Ranch residents, who also suffered from headaches and nausea along with nosebleeds, were told the effects were temporary. What followed was the Aliso Canyon leak, the largest methane gas leak in U.S. history, in which 100,000 metric tons of chemicals were released over a period of nearly four months.
In an ironic twist, natural gas was not causing those diseases. Unlike hydrogen sulfide, methane has no natural odor.
A non-toxic odor embedded in methane, called mercaptan, attracted “comparisons to rotten cabbage, stinky gym socks or rotten eggs.”
The safety additive could be detected in low concentrations and was so effective in warning people of the danger of extremely flammable methane that it was making them sick.
“It’s so harmful, people have a physiological response,” Dr. said at the time.
Whether hydrogen sulfide or mercaptan, Southern California residents have often used terms like “rotten” or “rotten” to describe horrible odors.
Friedman, associate professor at Auburn University, asserts, however, that strong and pungent scents do not always have negative connotations.
Ammonia, which can be toxic in concentrated levels, also provides an adrenaline rush and extra vigilance for weightlifters who pick up a slight odor just before the race, she said.
Today, sulfur is commonly called the smell of rotten eggs. However, Friedman says the scent was valued in some 18th-century European counties as the scent of purity and purity because of its association with mineral baths.
A dispute over description and connotation occurred not so long ago in the San Gabriel Valley.
The popularity of Southern California-based Sriracha hot sauce prompted founding company Huy Fong Foods to shift production from its Rosemead factory in 2012 to a new factory in Irwindale, due to growing demand.
Within a few months some residents complained of watery eyes and sore throats.
The offended parties described the smell as “very strong” and compared the smell to a “pepper spray”.
Other residents said the aroma was “soft, even a little pleasant” and favorably compared the smell to spicy and chorizo.
The source of the wind was a mixture of jalapeno hybrid peppers used in Sriracha.
Irwindale eventually sued Huy Fong Foods in 2013, claiming the aroma was a public concern. The city also asked a judge to stop the operations.
The lawsuits and counterclaims filed by the city and the company, respectively, were dismissed in 2018. Huy Fong Foods has continued to produce Sriracha relentlessly ever since.
While fragrance descriptions have changed for incidents over the past decade, there may be a simple explanation for linking fragrances produced by seas and canals, gas leaks, and hot sauce factories.
“My opinion, based on decades of observation (but not expertise in the area), is that winds do occur,” Barbara Belmont, a chemist and lecturer at Cal State Dominguez Hills, emailed. “Sometimes it is from gross pollution, sometimes it is just nature that gets in its way. “There will be winds to some extent wherever humans and animals are, and sometimes where humans and animals are not.”
Los Angeles Times staff writer Hailey Branson-Potts contributed to this report.