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Sewer lines downplayed as source of gas odors in Laguna Beach

The owner of a manufactured-home park in Laguna Beach said Tuesday there is a “high probability” that the odors that some residents have complained about are coming from outside the park and not from the sewer system.

Residents of Laguna Terrace Park, on South Coast Highway, gathered at their clubhouse to hear Stephen Braun, Hometown America Corp.'s chief operating officer, give an update on the company’s investigation into the source of what has been identified as hydrogen sulfide, a colorless gas that collects in low-lying, poorly ventilated areas and smells like rotten eggs at certain concentrations.

Residents have reported odors emanating from sinks, toilets and air conditioning vents as well as outside of their units, and they have attributed various ailments such as headaches and difficulty breathing to the gas.

“Last night the gases built up,” Michele McCormick, who made the first complaint to Hometown in April 2015, said at the meeting. “I had to close my house all down. It’s not OK.”

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Hometown officials said Tuesday that they didn’t receive a second complaint until the summer of 2016. Braun said Hometown will “stay on this until we get it resolved.”

He added that since October, Chicago-based Hometown has inspected a third of the complex’s sewer system using cameras — focusing on areas that have drawn the complaints — performed a smoke test throughout the entire system to identify any leaks, and installed monitors in seven homes, at two locations within the sewer system and outdoors along property lines.

The smoke test indicated 31 defects, including 14 leaking or missing sewer caps, faults that Hometown described as “minor” and were later fixed, Braun said.

“We’re not suggesting the overall problem was the 31 defects; that was a piece of the problem,” he said.

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Average readings from outdoor monitors were either near or above readings found in homes and the sewer system, according to data from Hometown, which hired environmental risk management firm RPS GaiaTech to consult on the issue.

For example, the average indoor reading taken from the seven homes from Oct. 1 through Nov. 28 was 0.694 parts per million, while the outdoor average reading near one of the houses was 0.686 parts per million from Oct. 1 through 11, according to results.

The inference, said Braun, is that the odor is not coming up through the indoor sewer pipes, that there is something in the unrestricted outdoor air that is just as powerful.

The maximum indoor reading taken during a one-hour span was 5.622 parts per million.

Typical background concentrations of hydrogen sulfide range from 0.00011 to 0.00033 parts per million, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration website. Prolonged exposure to gas ranging from 2 to 5 parts per million may cause nausea, tearing of the eyes, headaches or loss of sleep, the OSHA website said.

The average reading taken outdoors at the park entrance was 1.186 parts per million, while the average reading from the in-ground manhole at the entrance was 0.296 parts per million, according to results.

“We don’t think at this point that it is the sewer system,” Wayne Hunter, a consultant with RPS GaiaTech, said during the meeting.

Resident Jeff Bardzik wasn’t so quick to dismiss the sewer pipes as the problem. He said that even after his sewer cap was repaired, he closed the windows in his house for three days as an experiment and discovered gas levels ranging from 3 to 6 parts per million, suggesting the problem is still an indoors mystery.

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Hometown installed new sewer lines in 2015, and Braun reiterated the company’s prior determination that replacing the old sewer lines was not responsible for the odors.

Bardzik, who has lived in Laguna Terrace Park for 14 years, questioned that conclusion.

“We never had any type of odor [before the new sewer system was installed],” Bardzik said during the meeting. “I can’t accept coincidental.

"[Hydrogen sulfide] is a very serious situation. We hope there is a sense of urgency Hometown takes with them.”

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce


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