The Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant, located steps from the beach in El Segundo, successfully treats about 260 million gallons of sewage every day. On July 11 of last year, the overwhelmed plant suffered a 17-million-gallon spill of untreated sewage at approximately 7 p.m. about one mile offshore in the Santa Monica Bay. Earlier this month, the El Segundo City Council officially declared a local state of emergency and initiated a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles over ongoing issues from the spill.
Residents in El Segundo still complain of foul odors that stem from the toxic hydrogen sulfide gas, which they say has caused health issues like rashes, burning eyes, headaches, stomach pain, and nausea. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, studies have shown that exposure to even low levels of hydrogen sulfide can cause irritation to the eyes, nose or throat, headaches, poor memory and tiredness.
“If you’re a member of the neighbors of Hyperion Facebook group page, you could see endless threads of resident after resident after resident complaining about their headaches, itchy skin [and] red eyes,” said El Segundo resident Corrie Zupo, who serves on the city’s Environment Committee.
The spill happened when the plant became “inundated with overwhelming quantities of debris, causing backup of the headworks facilities,” according to a 2021 statement from the LA office of Sanitation and Environment. This backup triggered the plant’s relief system to prevent it “from going completely offline and discharging much more untreated wastewater,” which could have amounted to the whole 260 million gallons that the plant carries.
A number of violations and citations were recorded by the South Coast Air Quality Management but with a lack of transparency and accountability, nothing was being done by the city of LA, according to El Segundo City Manager Darrell George.
“We didn’t know as a community, as a city, if anything was being done,” George said. “We were told things were being done, but it was hard to identify.”
According to Zupo, taxpayer dollars have been used to replace broken equipment and other basics for maintaining the plant.
Both George and Zupo hope that legal action will catch the public’s attention and, most importantly, hold the city of LA accountable after the inaction and lack of communication regarding the plant.
In the opinion of Zupo, officials also failed to close the nearby beaches on time after the spill happened.
“It’s really concerning,” said Zupo. “All this money is being funneled in, but the plants are either not improving or getting worse. So you have to ask yourself, what is going on?”
The city of LA also provided temporary reimbursements for air conditioning and hotel stays for residents who wanted to leave the area because of the odor and resulting health issues from the toxic air.
“[If a disaster like this were to happen again], I would hope that there would be community notifications immediately about the water and air quality,” said Zupo.
Communication and complete transparency about how the issue is being handled is key since El Segundo holds little power in the issue as the plant is managed by the city of LA.
“The biggest thing I can’t change is [that] this Hyperion plant is located in the city of Los Angeles,” said George.