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Residents across Orange County report a strange odor in the air

Residents across Orange County report a strange odor in the air
A paddleboard makes his way through the Newport Beach Harbor in Newport Beach, where residents have been complaining about a foul smell in the air. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The South Coast Air Quality Management District is investigating a chemical odor that spread throughout Orange County on Thursday night, officials said.

Residents from Costa Mesa, Irvine, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Anaheim Hills and Yorba Linda described the smell various ways. Some said it smelled like lighter fluid, burnt plastic or paint thinner.

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“We dispatched our inspectors,” said Patrick Chandler, a spokesperson for the AQMD. “They’re in the area investigating and monitoring to determine the source.”

Air quality inspectors are working to obtain samples in order to determine what is causing the odor, he said. Sometimes, however, by the time inspectors arrive at the scene, the odor has dissipated, he said.

“We have to determine what the odors are and where they're coming from to have an idea of what's going on,” he said.

The Costa Mesa fire department received numerous calls shortly before 9 p.m. Thursday night, said spokesperson Chris Coates.

“We’re aware of it and we sent crews to investigate,” he said. “They were unable to determine the source.”

Firefighters dispatched Friday morning could not smell the odor, Coates said.

He added that there have been occasional reports in the past by residents who smell a natural gas-like odor and that the AQMD is aware of it. But callers Thursday night did not describe the smell as natural gas, he said.

The Huntington Beach Fire Department also tweeted about the odor, saying it had notified the proper authorities and did not know where the smell was coming from.

A tweet by the fire department dated Tuesday states they were investigating reports of a natural gas smell in the area.

Chandler said there had been calls before about a gas smell, but would not say whether people who reported the incidents described the smells differently. He said he could not say how often they get these reports.

Michael Radford, a Yorba Linda resident, said he began smelling “some sort of chemical smell” between 7:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday night.

Radford traveled between Yorba Linda and Newport Beach, near the Huntington Beach border, and smelled the odor while sitting outside on his parents’ porch.

“I thought it must be the people upstairs, burning something with a lighter fluid or I don’t know, a tiki torch or something,” he said. “I didn't think anything of it at first, but ...I walked out and was like ‘Oh my gosh, it still smells and it’s stronger.”

Radford smelled the odor until about 10:30 p.m. Thursday night.

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Chandler said people can report similar incidents to (800) CUT-SMOG.

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