El Segundo Residents Await Reimbursement, Improvements Months After Hyperion Sewage Spill

By Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
Micaela Ricaforte
September 7, 2021 Updated: September 9, 2021

For years, the city of El Segundo has been lovingly dubbed “Smell Segundo” by residents for its proximity to a sewage reclamation plant, a Chevron refinery, and the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

“You put those three together and it’s not going to make for fresh, clean, beautiful air, no goodness,” Resident Jo Franco told The Epoch Times. “On some days it’s business as usual, and on others, you walk outside, it’s like ‘Oh, it really stinks today.’”

And since the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant spilled nearly 17 million gallons of sewage into the Playa Del Rey beach on July 11, the stench in surrounding neighborhoods has been exceptionally strong, according to Franco.

The city of Los Angeles Sanitation & Environment (LASAN) said in a statement Aug. 5 that debris caused backup in the plant, triggering a “controlled emergency measure” that resulted in the discharge of untreated sewage into Santa Monica Bay for more than eight hours.

This led to elevated bacteria levels in surrounding beaches and a scent so strong it drove residents to hotel rooms outside of the city, claiming the smell caused headaches, burning eyes, nausea, and respiratory problems.

“I can’t concentrate, I have nearly daily headaches, dizzy, and just feeling overall lousy since this happened,” resident Sainte Jose DeLude told the Epoch Times. “I thought the smell had gone, but many times in the last two weeks I’ve smelled it again at various hours of the day when I walk the dog. Even the dog got ill.”

After an influx of complaints, LASAN created a program to reimburse residents of the surrounding area for up to $1,200 for an air purifier or air conditioner, or a hotel room to escape the stench. The city council also moved to instruct the city’s sanitation department to look into improvements that can be made to the department’s public response system, after the public was not immediately warned of the spill.

A Los Angeles Department of Public Works spokesperson told the LA Daily News that the city received about 3,000 total reimbursement claims, with 2,500 of those being for air conditioners or air purifiers, and the rest for hotel rooms; as of last week, the city spent $160,800 on 172 reimbursements.

Some applications take a long time to go through, the spokesperson said, because the department must verify all the documents, and many applications are filed with missing documents; residents can expect reimbursement within 6–8 weeks after the department has received the application with all the correct paperwork.

DeLude said she applied for an air conditioning unit in early August and didn’t receive an approval until early September.

“It was a very confusing process,” she said. “I had submitted everything online, and they rejected it saying I hadn’t filled it out properly. I have resubmitted on paper, made sure everything was in order, and sent off last week certified USPS. They say it could take up to 8 weeks or more to receive the reimbursement.”

Other residents say they don’t have the disposable income to spend on a hotel stay or an air conditioning unit until they are able to get reimbursed by the city.

“I think that’s pretty generous of [the city],” Franco said. “The difficulty for me right now is, I’m on disability. I broke my back. So for me to go out and spend $1,200 and submit receipts and wait for reimbursement is out of the question.”

Franco said she and her neighbors have also been dealing with an influx of rats and flies since the spill.

“A lot of my friends are like …  you got the sewage spill, you’ve got the [airline] flights going on, you have the raging coyotes. Why don’t you move and get out of that place?” she said. “But for people on a fixed income, sure I can move … but with a couple thousand dollars for movers and first month and last month security [deposits], taking care of utilities, it’s cost-prohibitive right now.”

“And if I don’t know where I can go to be away from all this. It’s just part of living in LA at this point,” she said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Public Works didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.