Mobil Cited for Smelly Nuisance

Air quality officials have cited Mobil Oil Corp. as a public nuisance for releasing rotten-egg odors that floated from its refinery over north Torrance and south Hawthorne on Tuesday morning.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District received 14 complaints, a spokesman said. The public nuisance citation carries a fine of up to $25,000. No injuries were reported.

“It was terrible. The odor was terrible,” said an official at Leuzinger High School in Hawthorne, where two students and two teachers were treated by the school nurse. The smell was also noticed at the Magruder Middle School in Torrance, the site of previous complaints about odors coming from the direction of the refinery.

Refinery spokesman Barry Engelberg said the release occurred because hydrocarbon vapors somehow got into a pipeline leading to a “sour water” storage tank and increased the pressure in the tank, causing venting of a mixture of hydrocarbon gases, hydrogen sulfide and possibly ammonia as well.


The 15-minute release began at 9:15 a.m. and was controlled after refinery officials blocked off the tank and sprayed foam on its top.

Mobil was last cited as a public nuisance by the AQMD in connection with an April 10 incident at the refinery, when a powdery substance containing alumina silicate fell on a nearby neighborhood, triggering 16 complaints. The powder, used in a refinery process to break up long-chain hydrocarbon molecules, is not toxic, but inhaling it can cause respiratory irritation, according to an AQMD spokesman.