Sewer Gas Sickens Park Residents

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By Cassandra Reinhart, Special to the Independent

Residents of a Laguna Beach mobile home park say they are coughing up blood and have even contracted pneumonia because sewer gas leaking into their homes is making them sick.

Three residents of the Laguna Terrace Park spoke during the public communications period of Tuesday night’s Laguna Beach City Council meeting.  They told council members they have reported their symptoms and the sewer gas smells to the park’s owners, Chicago-based Hometown America, since the spring of 2015, but until recently the owners have taken no action to acknowledge the residents concerns.

Michele McCormick, a five-year park resident, said she has been living with a lingering sewer smell in her home for 17 months.  On Sept. 15, a doctor diagnosed McCormick with pneumonia, a diagnosis she believes is linked to the noxious odor she smells daily in her home.

Michelle Mac Cormick
Michele McCormick believes gas escaping from a vent that protrudes from her home is toxic enough to have killed landscaping and made her sick with pneumonia.

“The doctor said it can be caused by bacterial, viral or chemical toxins,” McCormick said. “Given my issues they took lung X-rays and said it is most likely caused by chemical toxins. I am getting ready to go to a pulmonary specialist.”

A resident manager of the 156-lot Laguna Terrace Park, located at 30802 Coast Highway, says 11 spaces are vacant. Residences at the ocean-view park are promoted and prominently listed for sale on the website of Chicago-based Hometown America, which owns similar mobile home parks across the U.S.

In the spring of 2015, two years after Hometown America acquired the park, managers started upgrading the infrastructure and installed a new main sewer system parkwide in three phases:  first digging the main trench and laying the main sewer feeder line, then connecting lateral lines from the main line to each mobile home unit and finally repaving.

“My problem started right after that.  It was coming out of my kitchen sinks, it was coming out of the bathroom sink, it was coming out of the shower,” said McCormick, who brought her complaints to Hometown. “They have held the same position throughout; its not systemic, it is your home, you’re the only one complaining,” she said.

But McCormick isn’t the only one complaining. Residents say since the spring of 2015, at least nine homeowners have voiced similar concerns to park ownership over the sewer odors. Until recently, 13-year park resident Jeff Bardzik says residents pleas for help to Hometown America has fallen on deaf ears. “Some of us have been emailing them and talking to them for several months, maybe four or five, and we finally realized this is worse than we think,” said Bardzik.

McCormick says she has called Hometown America and its chief operating officer Stephen Braun dozens of times in the past 18 months to report the smell.

Park managers met with residents for the first time about the sewer complaints Wednesday, Sept. 28. Managers promised to install gas monitors on affected homes to measure gas levels if residents sign a waiver.

In an interview, Braun said Hometown America is taking the sewer smell concerns seriously, and have met with residents several times, though he could not provide specific dates.

“We are actively trying to figure out what this is,” Braun said “It is not methane gas; that is a rumor. We have hired an engineer and a consulting firm and two other engineering firms to try and figure out what this is.  We are kind of at a loss as to why this is occurring, but we are researching it.”

Braun says he is gathering three weeks of data from recent independent site testing.  He says the sewer system installed by Hometown America in 2015 is working “exactly as designed” and approved and that so far his reports show a derivative of sulfide gas, but no methane.

“So far the amounts of sulfide gas are below OSHA safety thresholds,” Braun said. “No doubt people are smelling this gas, but there is no evidence yet that gas levels are high enough to cause people to be sick.”

Residents say the odors follow a pattern of seepage and surface in the early morning or

Michele McCormick, left, and Megan Hampton are two of 16 Laguna Terrace Park residents who say sewer fumes now regularly infuse their homes.
Michele McCormick, left, and Megan Hampton are two of 16 Laguna Terrace Park residents who say sewer fumes now regularly infuse their homes.

evening hours from sink and shower drains and toilets.  “When you wake up every morning and you can’t brush your teeth in that sink because it is repulsive,” said Bardzik, who also spoke at the meeting. He said his home, on a lot with a 30-year lease from Hometown, was odor free until the 2015 installation of the sewer lines by Hometown America.

Council members listened, but did not offer much help. The privately owned mobile home park is serviced by the South Coast Water District and its land use is regulated by the state Departing of Housing and Community Development.

City Manager John Pietig advised the residents to seek legal counsel. “The city is limited because we don’t regulate the mobile home park; it is under state regulation. It is also not our sewer district.”

The South Coast Water District provides water and sewer service from Nyes Place south to Dana Point.

Pietig said he will press Hometown to speed up resolution of the issue.

Evan Gerberding, a spokesman for the state Housing and Community Development Department, found a complaint about a sewer leak at Laguna Terrace Park, but was unable to determine the outcome of the department’s investigation.

Typically, a complaint will be referred for investigation and a notice of violation issued if a health and safety violation is found, she said.

Bardzik said some residents are hesitant to sign a contract consenting to place meters from Hometown in their homes.

“If I let them put a meter in my home, and they find the gas, it is still being found behind the line, which is my property, which makes it my responsibility,” McCormick explained. “So I have just shot myself in the foot giving them data that shows them I am responsible to fix it. That is what I am concerned about.”

Braun said the company is now actively monitoring the gases and his engineers will attempt a solution to try and eliminate the odor, such as blowback valves or additional venting. If needed, he says Hometown America will pay for those fixes. “Our main concern is if there are health or safety issues in the park,” Braun said.

For McCormick, Braun’s concern comes too late. “Why after a year and a half of my consistent requests for their help and intervention, why now are they making an effort?”

 

 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. […] Hometown America Inc. recently released findings of an inquiry into complaints by park residents that began in May 2015 after a main line sewer was replaced. The presentation by Hometown chief executive Stephen Braun suggested the sewer gas hydrogen sulfide detected in homes as originating offsite. Residents believe long-term exposure to the gas, which smells like rotten eggs, is making them sick. […]

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