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Climate and Environment

El Segundo Declares State Of Emergency Over Lingering Effects Of Massive Sewage Spill

The entrance to the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant has a sign that has its name. A security guard can be seen in the background.
The entrance to the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant.
(Frederic J. Brown
/
AFP via Getty Images)
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Officials in the city of El Segundo are raising alarms about lingering odor and air quality problems following a major sewage spill last year.

The El Segundo city council voted Thursday to declare a “state of emergency,” and to move forward with plans to sue the city of Los Angeles, which manages the Hyperion sewage treatment plant.

L.A.’s Hyperion facility is the largest wastewater treatment plant west of the Mississippi River. In July of 2021, it malfunctioned and discharged 17 million gallons of raw sewage.

Living With Rotten Egg Smell

Residents who live near the plant say they’re still smelling foul odors 14 months later.

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“Sometimes it smells like rotten eggs,” said Corrie Zupo, who lives less than a mile from the plant. “Other times, it’s like a musty, chemical, burning smell.”

Zupo said she experiences headaches and itchy skin, and she’s concerned about what she and her family are breathing in every day.

“When we first moved here, I never even honestly thought about the wastewater treatment plant,” Zupo said. “Now I think about it daily.”

More Than 3,000 Complaints

After finding multiple violations at the plant, the South Coast Air Quality Management District petitioned last month for an order that would require Hyperion to speed up installation of air monitoring stations, perform daily inspections and hire a consultant to reduce odors.

The air quality regulator said inspectors have now responded to more than 3,000 complaints about Hyperion from local residents.

There’s no recourse for the residents. There’s really no recourse for us as a city.
— Lance Giroux, El Segundo City Council member

Hoping to elevate the ongoing crisis, El Segundo’s city council voted to move forward with legal action against the city of Los Angeles.

“There’s no recourse for the residents. There’s really no recourse for us as a city,” said El Segundo City Council member Lance Giroux. “We can’t force L.A. Sanitation to do something. Because it’s their property, and it’s their building. So we’re in a pretty dire strait right now.”

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Elena Stern, a spokesperson for the city of L.A.’s sanitation bureau, said the city “continues to be committed to ensuring the health and safety of our community and employees at Hyperion, and takes very seriously concerns about air quality.”

$100 Million In Improvements

Stern said L.A. has put more than $100 million toward improving Hyperion and minimizing odor emissions through investments such as replacing old odor control equipment and temporarily installing tarps over sedimentation tank covers.

But nearby residents say none of that has been enough to prevent horrible smells from deteriorating their quality of life.

Zupo said her family has to run their air conditioning all day to keep out noxious odors. And when they go to parks or events in the city they can’t avoid the fumes.

“It's very expensive to live here,” she said. “You're paying thousands of dollars to live here, and you can't even enjoy your own house or your own yard. It makes you wonder why do I even live here?”

No More Reimbursements

El Segundo residents could apply to a temporary program offering hotel stays and partial reimbursement for air conditioning costs in the months immediately following the initial spill. But local officials say no such aid is available at this point.

“Right now, there is nothing,” said council member Giroux. “It's not just the smell and inconvenience anymore. Everybody knows how bad that is. It's the actual chemicals, what we're actually breathing in. That is the real problem right now.”

While any legal action moves forward, Hyperion will continue to operate. The facility is essential infrastructure needed to treat the wastewater produced by four million people across Los Angeles and in neighboring cities such as El Segundo, Culver City and Santa Monica.

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