Southern California was plagued with a strong smell of rotten eggs on Monday, leaving officials scrambling to discover the source of the unpleasant phenomenon.
Investigators from the South Coast Air Quality Management District sent officials all over the region in an attempt to track the stench after being flooded with 200 complaints spread over an area of 10,000 square miles, said spokesman Barry Wallerstein.
Mr Wallerstein said ‘several factors’ indicate the odour could be coming from the Salton Sea, a 376-square-mile saltwater lake about 150 miles southeast of Los Angeles, but there is no definitive answer yet.
The dying sea, a major resting stop for migrating birds on the Pacific Flyway, has been plagued by increasing salinity. Created in 1905 when floodwaters broke through a Colorado River irrigation canal, it is expected to shrink significantly by 2018 and become even saltier.
The sea had a fish die-off within the past week and that, combined with strong storms in the area late Sunday, could have churned up the water and unleashed bacteria from the sea floor that caused the stench, said Ms Dawson.
The massive thunderstorm complex moved from Mexico over the area on Sunday night, with wind gusts up to 60mph and widespread dust storms.
‘We were watching it from the office on our satellite radar and it was huge, one of the largest that any of us have ever seen in probably 10 years,’ said meteorologist Mark Moede.
Mr Wallerstein acknowledged the storm could be a factor in the smell’s spread but said it’s ‘highly unusual’ for odours to remain powerful up to 150 miles from their source.
The smell does not pose any health hazards, but it generated an explosion of quips on social media from Riverside County to the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles.
Jose Chavez, a 28-year-old comedian from San Fernando, tweeted: ‘The Valley is starting to smell like rotten eggs. In an unrelated note, Febreeze sales are through the roof in the San Fernando Valley.’
Mr Chavez was leaving the grocery store when he was overwhelmed by the odour.
‘My first thought was that maybe one of the eggs I bought was rotted and I got back home and the smell was still there so then I started to think it was me so I changed my clothes,’ he said. ‘It was very pungent.’
Jack Crayon, an environmental scientist at California’s Department of Fish and Game, said he recognized the smell as the typical odour when winds churn up the sea’s waters and pull gases from the decomposition of fish or other organisms up to the surface.
He said the phenomenon typically occurs a few times a year in the area surrounding the lake, but it was unusual for the smell to spread so far.
The smell was starting to dissipate on Monday as winds picked up speed.
The Salton Sea is about 30 per cent saltier than the ocean and sits 200 feet below sea level.
It relies on water that seeps down from nearby farms, and it has been plagued with fish die-offs that result from low oxygen levels in the water and receding shorelines.