Sewer Gas Source May be Outside the Park


By Cassandra Reinhart | LB Indy

Sewer gases present at Laguna Terrace Mobile Home Park may be coming from offsite sources, a representative of the park owner told residents Tuesday.

Hometown America’s chief operating officer, Stephen Braun, met with about 60 park residents to present findings of an investigation into their complaints about sewer odors that began two years ago.

The findings show the detection of the sewer gas hydrogen sulfide in homes at levels that causes harm to human health.

“We have done whatever we could do, and there is no reason for us not to fix this problem,” Braun told residents.

Laguna Terrace’s sewer saga started in the spring of 2015, two years after Chicago-based Hometown America acquired the mobile home park and installed a new main sewer system. Hometown received its first documented complaint of odor in May of that year, and others followed.

Michele McCormick outside the pipe that vents sewer gases from her home in Laguna Terrace Park.
Michele McCormick outside the pipe that vents sewer gases from her home in Laguna Terrace Park.

“It was coincidental, the smells, and the fact that we had just finished putting in the new lines several months before,” Braun said. “We don’t treat any waste water on site here. What we did was put in new lines to take it from your homes and drop it down at the bottom of the street so it can head off to the treatment plant.”

Reacting to resident complaints, Hometown turned to Chicago-based RPS GaiaTech, which provides environmental risk management and engineering services. The company was hired to collect and analyze the data on the sewer smell to try and identify the source.

Last fall, the company conducted video camera inspections of a third of the park’s sewer lines, “smoke testing” of the lines for leaks, and monitors within the system indoors as well as outdoors to measure hydrogen sulfide levels.

The findings presented Tuesday showed no leaks in the park’s sewer system, but that outdoor hydrogen sulfide readings were equal to or higher than ones within the sewer system itself, leading park ownership to deduce that the source of the sewer gas is coming from outside the community.

“All we are suggesting is we seem to have an atmospheric issue that is on the periphery of the system,” Wayne Hunter, RPS GaiaTech’s lead project engineer, told residents. “Is there another contributor beyond what everyone else is pointing to?  We don’t think at this point it is our sewer system.”

A test where smoke is forced through sewer lines revealed 31 minor defects, which were either fixed by Hometown or reported to residents as a homeowner repair in November. The fixes resulted in a 14% decrease of measured in-home levels, the report says.

Some residents disagreed with the data, saying they are still experiencing levels that don’t reflect the lower averages presented Tuesday.

“Your numbers shown up there, I don’t know how those numbers are showing such low statistics,” resident Megan Hampton told Braun. “We currently have readings in the threes and the sixes.  Zero is acceptable in our home. One, three, five, six is not acceptable to be in somebody’s home.”

“I’m at a loss to say why you may be spiking to six at times, because it just doesn’t prove out that this gas is being generated by the lines we created,” Braun told Hampton.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, hydrogen sulfide levels of .01-1.5 parts per million present a rotten egg smell. At 2-5 ppm, nausea, headaches, and bronchial problems can happen.

“My health has been impacted,” Michele McCormick told Braun at Tuesday’s meeting.  “It’s not okay, and I am not surprised Hometown is taking this position tonight that it is in our homes and we need to fix our homes.”

Last October, Hometown contacted South Coast Water District, which provides water and sewer service to the park, to install odor-trapping backflow devices at the connections of its sewer main with Laguna Terrace Park.

Hunter said there were no measurable reductions after that installation, but suggested air relief valves along a sewer main adjacent to the park warrant more investigation.

Braun said Hometown has shared its findings with city officials, wastewater providers and the state Office of Housing and Community Development, the agency with jurisdiction over mobile home parks.

HCD administrator Gabriel Contreras, who was present Tuesday, seemed satisfied the park owner was acting responsibly to address residents’ concerns.

While some residents thanked Braun for holding the meeting and presenting the findings, others say Hometown’s actions are insufficient.

“I was not informed this was going on,” park resident Valerie Wallace said.  “There is no communication going on here. Something needs to be done about the communication.”

“The report you submitted to HCD was good; I just wish you would have been more transparent along the way,” McCormick said.

Braun pledged to do more moving forward, scheduling more smoke testing and doubling the amount of hydrogen sulfide monitors in the park to continue collecting data.

“We want now to help in trying to figure it out,” Braun said. “And I believe the cities and the agencies are going to try and help us figure it out and we will see what is next.”



Share this:


  1. We are residents of Laguna Terrace, and the sewer smells existed long before Hometown acquired the property. They are not unique or isolated to our community. You can smell it down at Ruby’s, The Montage, Gelson’s parking lot–not every day, but when the wind blows a certain way.

  2. The fact that the OSHA levels show in the levels of 0.01-1.5 to 2-6 inside ones home is absolutely absurd to live with and will compromise ones health. 2-5 = Prolonged exposure may cause nausia , tearing in the eyes,headaches and loss of sleep.(bronchial constriction)in some asthma patients.
    20: Possible fatigue, loss of appetite,headache irritability, poor memory and dizziness.
    Im talking about what some are experiencing inside their homes with a monitor placed inside and area of extreme odor (Bathrooms ) coming from the sink and toilet area.
    The idea of living with this odor inside a home and and with ventilation of windows being open.
    The odor inside a home where you can smell the H2s upon entry to ones home and in a concentrated area of a bathroom or kithcen sink has implied it is coming in through the sewer connected to the lateral that enters our homes.
    The reading should be 0!!!! inside yur home.This has been stated by many professional’s. Ask city officials of Laguna Beach. We have experimented with homes being closed up from outside elements and upon entry the odor is significant. Monitors in these homes are reading numbers that are unacceptable to live in.
    The idea of sleeping in your home and living with people and pets is compromising your health.
    For those that do not have this problem and are not sympathetic to your neighbors] is SAD. It’s kind of like “out of sight , out of mind” or in this case SMELL!
    Why wouldn’t it be affecting everyone the same if it was coming from oustide as implied by Hometown.

    There are specific problems of inside odor of H2s gas in Laguna Terrace and it is not going away with the tests that have been done so far with Hometown . As of yesterdday Pipeline was on the property and found blockage of roots in the lines through a video camera off the main entry of the complex , does this contribute to the problem ? of course one would imagine. When asked how often they were cleaned out the answer from tech was ” I don’t know ! , Maybe never, or maybe 10 years ago?”
    There ae many pieces to this puzzle and some action after this length of time is putting people in jeopardy of their quality of health and well being.
    Piumbers that have evaluated the complaints and problems at Laguna Terrace have suggested a a clean out shut off valve that would be placed in the lateral that comes from the sewer line that Hometown installed into the lateal that then releases this gas into your home. It would send it back down the sewer line and keep it from entering the home. Why not try this to those that are experiencing it in their home to see if that takes care of the H2s gas from entering the home ?
    Let’s get moving on some problem solving that can bring relief to this long lasting stressful and unhealthy problem to those that are directly involved with the H2s inside of their homes.
    The outside air is one thing to continue to work on but the inside effected home need immediate attention of the H2S gas entering the home.
    Megan Hampton

  3. Megan, if a plumber has suggested a fix, why don’t you try it? Then, if it works, deduct the cost out of your next rent check. If it doesn’t, then that wasnt’ the problem.

  4. Michele, I have had numerous emails and letters from Hometown throughout this process; there have been many communications and reports along the way.

  5. Stick to facts people , we are all aware of the outside elements we can breathe living here and all along the coast .
    This is combined with specific h2s gas inside homes .
    Inside homes , there are some ideas and options that Hometown needs to be responsible for, this didn’t happen until after they put the seer system in .
    This is no coincidence !
    I invite you to see facts gathered to show that . I invite you to hear the voice of reason and proof to support your neighbors .
    Please don’t use this site over matters that don’t help you understand further documentation that there is a very serious problem here .
    Please hear both sides before concluding this issue .
    So glad you do not have odor in your house to breathe everyday that interferes with your quality of life .

  6. Not sure what facts are being missed here–merely suggesting that per your previous comment,”Piumbers that have evaluated the complaints and problems at Laguna Terrace have suggested a a clean out shut off valve that would be placed in the lateral that comes from the sewer line that Hometown installed into the lateal that then releases this gas into your home. It would send it back down the sewer line and keep it from entering the home. Why not try this to those that are experiencing it in their home to see if that takes care of the H2s gas from entering the home ?” that you should try this.
    If it were my home and I was truly concerned with my health, I would not be sitting around waiting for somebody else to find a solution, nor taking it to the media. I would hire a licensed plumber and get it fixed, pronto!!

  7. Connect the dots:
    Several years ago, my NGO, CLEAN WATER NOW, joined litigation against the City filed by California River Watch.
    CRW prevailed, one of the specific items the City agreed to was the immediate upgrade of our antiquated Sanitary Sewer System.
    One of CWN’s biggest concerns was the H2S that builds up in our collection system, causing that stink, hallmark of these gases.
    Residents near the pump stations (that keep the waste moving south along PCH) like those here in Victoria Beach have been complaining for years about these noxious (and if contained potentially inflammable/explosive) vapors. Notice no one is ringing the inflammable/explosive alarm bell?
    The mobile home park is on the inland side of Victoria Beach, and anyone with their car window down or walking nearby can smell the gas.
    It is especially noticeable during lulls, cool periods when little is being collected/moved, hence stagnant, vapors building up: Like early mornings, Sunday standing out when people sleep in.
    Bluebird and other low-laying sections were to be remediated via “scrubbers,” retrofitting the pump stations with devices that oxygenate: Oxygen knocks down/reduces the H2S concentration + a little chloramine disinfects & significantly reduces odor. These devices are relatively inexpensive, if memory serves about $150,000/unit.
    In the Writ of Mandate, the settlement, the City vowed to aggressively rehab our SSS, earmarked the $$$ for those scrubbers, then laid out a $35 million City-wide rehab plan to take place over a 10 year period.
    Park residents need to hold the City accountable: Part of the problem might be the Victoria Beach pump station system (there are several ancillary pumps + the main one tied into the main collection system). The major one is on the inland side of PCH, by the underpass. It should be noted that a lot of MONTAGE wastewater is relayed to Blue Lagoon, then pumped uphill to PCH via SCWD infrastructure.
    And there are inexpensive, modestly sized ozone devices that could be easily retrofitted into the Park system, use solar (therefore little noise, low energy demand)….I’ve calculated indoor uses (on average), came up with ≈30–40,000 gallons per day. Based on 156 units, 2 persons/unit.
    And yes, I’m Roger E. Bütow, I am a professional enviro-consultant + founder & ED of CWN……which 19 years later, I guess that we’re still waiting for clean air too.
    The City has broken its vows, in violation of the OC Superior Court Writ of Mandate, in contempt of court—which is what career politicians ands bureaucrats do: Hold citizens in contempt.

  8. It’s not only a city-wide issue, it’s one of some 20 years in the making:

    FACT: Then the CLEAN WATER NOW! COALITION, back in late 1999, along with incredible help from LBCC Wayne Baglin, was the NGO that brought both US & Cal EPA into LB, ending in June of 2000 with an Assessed Civil Liability of $240,000 by the Regional Water Board + a VERY chastising edict from the feds: Basically, CLB, cleanup your Sanitary Sewer System act, start rehabbing your dilapidated infrastructure, and definitely STOP the chronic spills that closed beaches. The USEPA Directive, handed down to only 3 cities in all of So Cal, was later typified by then Asst. CM John Pietig as “guidance,” when it fact it was a mandate, a formal binding, direct order and not optional.

    FACT: In the late 90s, the CLB was averaging 1 spill every 3 weeks that reached/closed one of our pristine beaches. That June of 2000 at a CalEPA hearing, a ZERO TOLERANCE policy was adopted, paying of fines, etc. was imposed. Contemporaneously, as part of the negotiated mitigation settlement with CWN!C participation, the City’s first Environmental Enforcement Officer (Still Mike Phillips) & its its first Water Quality Dept. were created, were the main elements of the contractual arbitrated resolution. So like us or not, CWN!Cis the rightful Godparents of this city’s supposed righteous path forward.

    FACT: Short memories, doesn’t anyone remember the 2 massive, hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage spills @ Bluebird/Surf & Sand + near Mozambique, both resulting in enormous swaths of closed beaches just a few years ago? Both avoidable, both due to inept/inadequate and/or improper response + aging infrastructure that is part of the “cut corners” mentality @ City Hall. Bluebird & Victoria Beach pump stations should have been prioritized 17 years ago, my neighbors here in Lower Vic have proof of complaint letters going back over 15 years.

    FACT: Former CM Ken Frank, now CM Pietig, with the complicity of the Council configurations these past 17 years have failed re the ZERO TOLERANCE, have shifted capital improvement $$$ to other tasks via the General Fund. Think of all of those useless, expensive studies that either (a) Told us what we already know, or (b) Try to fix what isn’t broken, make-over unique Laguna into La Jolla or Carmel—urbanized beach town nightmares.

    FACT: Look at who works for us. Do they look like beach people tribe or career politicians/bureaucrats? For true Lagunans, our greatest asset, our most enduring love is that ocean. Whether it’s the view, the ecosystems or related wonderful quality of life we enjoy (fresh sea breezes, surf, green mountains next to blue waters). We’ve commodified it, yet our ruling class lets our citizenry suffer nuisances like obnoxious fumes, beach closures from sewage, chronic impaired bacterial warnings (Victoria is one of the most impacted according to OC Health Dept.).

    FACT: Until people file litigation, demand that the CLB do as it vowed, nothing will change. City Hall needs to be held accountable.
    “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”- Voltaire

  9. So now we’re finding out that we’ve got an extra $6 million in revenue, huh?
    Anybody see our Council or staff mulling over real pressing needs?
    The City, after being successfully litigated by California River Watch, a year ago with much public fanfare, contractually agreed to spend $35 million over the course of 10 years to rehab our aging, failing Sanitary Sewer System (SSS). Bluebird & Victoria Beach were 2 prime examples of dilapidated and fixable hot spots, deficient infrastructure.
    So why isn’t City Hall mentioning, let alone earmarking $3.5 million towards fulfilling that mandate? Whatever happened to quality of life for residents first, business second?
    What don’t our elected and appointed know & when didn’t they know it?
    Hello, CRW, please come back and re-open your litigation, methinks the CLB is in contempt, failed to comply with its agreement.
    If the Laguna Terrace Mobile Home Park h2s issues are even partially due to no prioritized improvements @ the Victoria Beach pump station as promised, then maybe CRW can file a class action for those of us in this rancid-smelling neighborhood.
    And that h2s isn’t just an odor issue, that gas when confined/contained is flammable AND combustible.

  10. Speaking of FLUSH, why no $$$ for the dilapidated sewer system as promised?

    The City is flush with unexpected income: $6 million…
    The City Council will deal on Tuesday with a $6 million windfall.
    Higher than expected increases in property, bed and sales taxes, as well as community development fees have plumped up the city’s bankroll, according to a staff report to be presented to the council.
    A 6.75 increase in property taxes added up to $4.7 million over the 20 percent reserve in the general fund and the parking fund brought in an extra $1.1 million. Bed taxes jumped 8.9 percent over estimates, sales taxes were up by 3 percent net and community development revenue was 20 percent higher than predicted.
    A list of 19 items was prepared for the council to consider funding with the bonanza.
    Among the items recommended for consideration:
    $500,000 each to the Laguna Art Museum and Laguna Playhouse
    $300,000 transfer to Open Space Fund
    $500,000 Funding to defend ACLU and Short Term Lodging court cases
    $300,000 additional funding for Wayfinding Signs
    $110,000 increase in contracts for Downtown Specific Plan and
    Landscape & Scenic Highway Plan
    $80,000 for geotechnical environmental investigation and public outreach
    related to a community pool at Lang Park
    If all 19 recommendations were approved, the council would still have one-time funds of $1.4 million and $34,500 in ongoing funds.
    The funds could be set aside for capital improvement projects. Among the projects in need of funding: sidewalks on Pacific Coast Highway ($7,700,000), Lang Park Community Pool ($15,000,000), possible relocation of Fire House 4 ($3,000,000) and purchase of the South Laguna Community Garden ($750,000).


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here