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Climate and Environment

There's Still A Nasty Smell From The Hyperion Sewage Spill. Nearby Residents Say 'There's No Relief'

An overhead image of the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant near a beach.
The Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant next to Dockweiler State Beach. (Don Searles)
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In the three weeks since the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Playa del Rey discharged 17 million gallons of raw sewage into the Pacific Ocean, residents living near the plant have continued to see their lives disrupted by the spill.

The plant is still discharging partially treated sewage that is above pollution limits, causing the air to take on a “paint-peeling” smell of excrement and introducing a host of potential human health and environmental concerns.

Checking In On Hyperion Plant Sewage Spill

“This was a catastrophic event,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who represents the region, in a conversation Tuesday with Libby Denkmann on our newsroom’s news affairs show AirTalk. “I’m still trying to get answers from the city of Los Angeles on what exactly did happen.”

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El Segundo resident Danielle Busse, who has lived in the area for nine years, said she’s never experienced anything like it.

“There's no relief outside,” she said. “And on some days it's so bad, I have a HEPA filter and our air conditioner, but it gets in the house. It permeates everything.”

Corrie Zupo, an El Segundo resident who lives on the west side of town and near the plant, said she has had a headache, sore throat and lethargy since the spill. “It’s been pretty miserable,” Zupo said.

Help Offered

L.A.'s Department of Sanitation, which operates the Hyperion facility, has offered to reimburse residents for hotel stays. But going to a hotel would mean Zupo would not have childcare for her two kids, which isn’t feasible for her family. “We're just trying to chug through it,” she said.

The city is also reimbursing people for air conditioning units.

"The City will reimburse households for air conditioner units if they don’t already have them. For this purpose, LA Sanitation & Environment shall define air conditioning unit as air conditioners, fans, air purifiers, air filters, and associated installation. The limit will remain at a $600 limit per household for homes 1000 square feet or smaller and a $1200 limit per household for homes above 1000 square feet."
A map of El Segundo shows in red where residents are eligible for reimbursement.
(Courtesy LA Sanition)

Both programs have been extended until Aug. 5.

Concern About 'Devastating Impacts'

Residents have criticized sanitation officials for failing to immediately notify beachgoers of the initial July 11 spill, and for a shortage of information about the ongoing risks posed by discharge that is not fully treated.

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In addition to the troubling human health effects, the environmental damage could be devastating, said Bruce Reznick, executive director of the nonprofit Los Angeles Waterkeeper.

“Violations of [pollution indicators like] turbidity, excessive amounts of solids in wastewater, those can have really devastating impacts,” Reznik said, including fish die-offs and deleterious effects on the small organisms that compose the basis of the ocean’s food chain.

“One thing that's really worrying is that these limits were getting violated in the immediate aftermath of the spill, but they've been getting even worse since then," he said.

L.A.'s Department of Sanitation said in a statement that since the July 11 discharge, “we have been in full recovery mode and are making significant progress.”

It added: “it should be noted that none of this wastewater reaches the shoreline” and that crews are “removing the remaining sludge that is causing odors, and we continue to provide support and assistance to El Segundo residents negatively impacted by the incident.”

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board, which sets standards for waste facilities like Hyperion, said in a statement that “the board’s priority in response to the July 11 Hyperion upset has been to closely monitor the city’s progress to repair the damage caused to Hyperion’s wastewater treatment process as quickly as possible.”

Due to the pollution in Santa Monica Bay since the spill, the board will also require the city to conduct frequent testing offshore and provide daily reports on the status of repairs and water quality in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, experts like Reznik are wary of the waters.

“I would stay out of the bay for a while until we know what’s going on,” he said.

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