A putrid smell haunting southern California was finally determined to be coming from the Salton Sea, confirming experts’ suspicions. Residents from Moreno Valley, Mecca, Indio Murrieta and as far as Los Angeles all got exposed to varying degrees of the rancid odor.

Official inspectors ruled out landfills, oil refineries and a natural spring before they reached their final conclusion with the aid of air samples that led them to the Salton Sea. They detected hydrogen sulfide, a gaseous product of organic decaying matter, coming from the 376-square mile, murky sea, according to the L.A. Times.

Andrew Schlange is the general manager of the Salton Sea Authority. He said that fish die-off in the Salton Sea is a contributing factor to the smell, but issues such as stench may be getting worse as conditions in the Salton Sea worsen. Schlange said the sea has lost much of its depth. Currently, it’s at about 50 feet in depth at its deepest point with an average depth of 30 feet. More water is evaporating than replenishing the sea and if this continues, major odor problems could be common.

“All of a sudden Sunday evening, we had all these conditions that came together to allow something like this to occur,” Schlange told the L.A. Times. “It’s occurred before, but not at this magnitude.”

While the towns of Mecca and Indio, located just north of the sea, experienced a constant smell, Los Angeles, roughly 150 miles away, also got a repulsive whiff. Schlange said a large storm on Sunday night in southern California was the cause of the drift.

The L.A. Times wrote,

…the storm upset an anaerobic—or oxygen-deprived—lower layer of the sea, where organic material lays decomposing, releasing the noxious hydrogen sulfide gas, with its distinct rotten egg smell.

South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) spokesman Sam Atwood said there were 235 documented complaints about the smell as of Monday 5:30 pm. Although since then, there have been less than 10 a day as the smell lingers in the area.

The results of the AQMD air quality sampling are below.

LocationHydrogen sulfide concentration (parts per billion)
Northwest of Salton Sea149
Western shore of Salton Sea35
West of Salton Sea10
Cherry Valley8
BeaumontLess than 2

Image from the flickr Creative Commons

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