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South Laguna homeowners plagued by gas smell identified as hydrogen sulfide

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Michele McCormick stands at her home in Laguna Terrace in South Laguna, where she says the smell of gas has sometimes forced her to leave her house.
(Don Leach | Daily Pilot)

South Coast Water District crews this week detected traces of gas in a South Laguna neighborhood where residents have reported foul odors for months.

However, the source of the gas is still unknown.

On Monday afternoon, the district, responding to a resident’s phone call, discovered hydrogen sulfide at Laguna Terrace, a manufactured-home park at 30802 S. Coast Hwy. that sits across from the Montage resort.

The amount of the colorless gas, produced by bacterial breakdown of human and animal waste, was 4 to 6 parts per million, according to South Coast General Manager Andy Brunhart.

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In that range, prolonged exposure to the gas could cause nausea, tearing of the eyes, headaches or loss of sleep, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration website.

Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs and collects in low-lying, poorly ventilated areas, according to OSHA.

Monday’s finding adds a chapter to a saga that has frustrated Laguna Terrace residents, some of whom say they have noticed the stench for at least a year. They have reported odors emanating from sinks, toilets and air conditioning vents.

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Laguna Terrace resident Michele McCormick stands behind her home, where workers placed a pipe to allow gas to escape. McCormick said she first noticed a gassy odor at her home in April 2015. 

(Don Leach | Daily Pilot)

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Water district crews had visited the area several times, to no avail — until Monday.

The district is not responsible for sewer laterals in the park, but as a precaution, it installed three backflow devices at the connection between its main line, which runs under South Coast Highway, and the private laterals.

The devices have an internal mechanical disc that prevents water or liquid from flowing uphill into the laterals feeding Laguna Terrace, Brunhart said.

Late last month, residents shared their concerns with their property manager, Chicago-based Hometown America Corp., in hopes of finding a solution. Homeowners also spoke at last week’s Laguna Beach City Council meeting.

Michele McCormick said she first reported the smell to Hometown in April 2015 after arriving to a house “full of gas.”

“I thought I left the stove burner on all day,” said McCormick, who has lived in the park for five years.

One night the odor funneled through a vent in her bedroom wall. McCormick said sometimes she has had to leave her house because the stench was so unbearable.

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She spent thousands of dollars to fix her plumbing system and clean up sewage that had collected under her home. Crews installed an 8-foot-tall vent pipe on her property, allowing gas to escape. But the smell persisted, she said.

Chas Naylor moved to Laguna Terrace in February. He said he occasionally notices the odor, such as one night last week when the sulfuric smell was coming from his sink.

“Every day I’m in this flu-like haze,” Naylor said.

At times, he said, he has endured a persistent cough, headaches and phlegm in his chest, though he said this week that the symptoms are improving.

Hometown officials say they have worked for months trying to find a solution.

The company said in an email to residents this week that it repaired the wastewater collection system at Laguna Terrace last year, though it did not give details about the work. Company officials ruled out the possibility that the repairs caused the odors, the email said.

Following residents’ complaints, Hometown hired an independent water-quality expert to analyze the wastewater system and installed air-quality monitors, which “confirmed the presence of hydrogen sulfide gas,” according to the email.

Hometown representatives declined a request for further comment.

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McCormick said she was “disturbed” by the email, adding that she was unaware of Hometown placing monitors in the wastewater system.

“They’re saying they’re doing all kinds of things to help me, but I would like to know what those things are,” McCormick said. “My concern is not just for myself but for the health of other residents.”

According to Hometown’s email, the company will continue monitoring hydrogen sulfide levels and will create a report to share with residents.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce


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