About 50 people jammed Goleta City Hall on Wednesday night in search of solutions to one of the city’s foulest problems: noxious odors that smell like rotten eggs.
Every so often, Goleta residents, mostly in the western part of the city, smell the stinky odor of hydrogen sulfide. It reminds people of rotten eggs and can permeate the air for miles.
And unlike a mysterious fog that one can see looming over the city like a scene out of a 1950s B-movie, hydrogen sulfide is invisible and no one quite knows when it is going to be present, or for how long it will stay.
“It affects peoples’ lives when you can’t open your windows for several days of the week,” said Goleta resident Jennifer Fullerton. “It makes you want to move.”
Officials believe that farmers drilling deep wells in search of water could be responsible for the odor.
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless, flammable “extremely hazardous gas” that occurs naturally in crude petroleum, natural gas and hot springs. It is also produced by bacterial breakdown of organic materials and human and animal wastes.
Others suspect that the smell comes from Venoco’s oil platform.
Some people who spoke at Wednesday’s meeting complained of nosebleeds, headaches and dizziness from the hydrogen sulfur smell.
Dr. Charity Dean, Santa Barbara County’s public health officer, said hydrogen sulfide does not accumulate in the body, but can have negative health effects.
She said some people with underlying conditions such as asthma could be even more sensitive to the smell.
Between October and December of 2017, emergency officials responded to 31 complaints. Officials believe a farmer drilling for water was responsible for the smell.
Another 13 complaints were lodged between January and February of 2018, but crews were unable to figure out what was causing the smell.
“For the most part, we can never locate the source,” said Battalion Chief Anthony Stornetta.
Emergency responders warned that the smell is nothing to take lightly.
“It is a deadly gas,” said Robert Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Services. “If you smell something and you don’t know where it is coming from, you need to call 9-1-1.”
Some of the people in at the meeting called on the Fire Department to install sensors throughout the city that can instantly determine the source of the smell, but Kaitlyn McNally, compliance division manager for the Santa Barbara Air Pollution Control District,” said such network was cost-prohibitive.
“The costs are challenging,” she said. “We don’t have the resources to do that.”
Instead the Fire Department uses a portable hydrogen sulfide detector that analyzes the air. It takes 12-27 seconds to detect odor, depending on the levels, once a firefighter arrives at the scene.
Residents, however, say that they can smell the odor, even if the machine doesn’t detect a high presence of hydrogen sulfide.
Goleta City Councilman Michael Bennett said he believes farmers are drilling into the ground for water to avoid using expensive water from the Goleta Water District.
Goleta resident Robert Miller said crews should install monitors at the agriculture sites where people are drilling wells. He suspects that the farmers are using the water to irrigate their land.
“I don’t think this is just a health issue,” Miller said. “It’s also a nuisance issue. We have a problem. We’re not solving it. We need to solve it. We can’t just let this go on and on and on.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.