See the press release issued October 10, 2017 by Santa Barbara County  and go to Recent Events below for more information.

Background

There has been an increase in reports of sulfur odor in western Goleta. Some Goleta-area agriculture users have lost access to public water supplies and now rely heavily on private well water for irrigation. Some are drilling wells deeper than before, so they are more likely to encounter groundwater containing sulfur compounds including hydrogen sulfide (H2S). H2S can be released from the water as a gas and create noticeable odors similar to a “rotten egg” smell. Use of sprinklers may increase the release of sulfur odors during irrigation.

H2S is a gas that produces a sulfur odor at low levels and health effects at higher levels. Sulfur odors are typically first detected at H2S concentrations of 0.01 ppm. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), health effects such as nausea, tearing, headaches, etc. may be experienced at H2S concentrations as low as 2 ppm. Detailed information regarding symptoms of H2S exposure at various concentrations can be found at the federal OSHA website.

If you or your family members are experiencing health effects from H2S exposure, it is recommended that you call 911 immediately, seal up your house, and remain inside as much as possible. If the odors continue to cause health effects, you should leave the area and move uphill until conditions improve. Sensitive individuals with more serious or persistent health effects should seek medical attention.

The District has a handheld Arizona Instrument Jerome (J-605) H2S Analyzer to measure H2S in the ambient air. The handheld analyzer’s detection range is 0.003 ppm–10 ppm. The District uses this equipment to determine levels of exposure and whether the District Odorous Organic Sulfides Rule thresholds have been exceeded (averaging 0.06 ppm H2S over 3 minutes, or 0.03 ppm H2S over 1 hour, at or beyond the property line).

Recent Events

Between October 2, 2017 and October 16, 2017, the District received eleven complaints of a “rotten egg” smell, or hydrogen sulfide (H2S) from an area in western Goleta. This part of the coast is historically known for H2S odors, and in this case the source is likely irrigation from one or more agricultural operations in the vicinity. The District is investigating to identify a cause and determine H2S levels.

  • October 5, 2017, between 10:50 AM – 11:30 AM, the District investigated. A District inspector was able to identify an agricultural operation in the Ellwood Canyon area where H2S was detected within the property line, downwind of their irrigation equipment. Measurements were taken with our handheld analyzer within the agricultural property and showed H2S levels between 0.013 ppm and 0.214 ppm. Since these measurements were within the property line, they are not in violation of the District Odorous Organic Sulfides Rule. Measurements were also taken at multiple locations beyond the property line of the agricultural operation and showed H2S levels in the ambient air were 0.000 ppm at all locations.
  • October 6, 2017, between 7:10 AM – 8:10 AM, the District again inspected the area. Measurements were taken with our handheld analyzer within the agricultural property and showed H2S levels between 0.000 ppm and 0.295 ppm. Since these measurements were within the property line, they are not in violation of the District Odorous Organic Sulfides Rule. Measurements were again taken at multiple locations beyond the property line of the agricultural operation and showed H2S levels in the ambient air were 0.000 ppm at all locations.
  • October 10, 2017, at approximately 9:00 PM, District staff inspected the area where odors had previously been reported. No odors were detected and the H2S measurements with the handheld analyzer were 0.000 ppm at all locations.
  • October 11, 2017 10:50 PM – October 12, 2017 12:20 AM, the District investigated the area where odors had been reported that night. Sulfur odors were detected by District staff and measurements were taken with the handheld analyzer at multiple locations. Measurements showed H2S levels in the ambient air between 0.000 ppm and 0.022 ppm. Levels below 2 ppm H2S may be detectable as odors, but are not within the range where health effects are experienced, according to OSHA. In addition, the levels measured are not a violation of the District’s Odorous Organic Sulfides Rule. The source of the odors was not determined during this investigation.

2016 Hydrogen Sulfide Odors

A year ago, on October 10, 2016, the District, Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, Santa Barbara County Fire Department, and Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management were involved with the investigation of a release of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), which began causing a “rotten egg” smell in the Ellwood area of Goleta on Sunday, October 9, 2016. During the investigation, inspectors from EHS identified the likely source as naturally occurring H2S that was released during drilling of a private agricultural water well. At approximately 2:30 pm, Monday, October. 10, 2016, EHS suspended the well drilling permit. According to EHS, the driller was able to plug the well and stop the flow of water late in the night of Monday, October 10, 2016. The stop work order is in place until a plan to mitigate the release is approved. On October 11, 2016, the investigation concluded that the Venoco Ellwood Onshore Facility was not the source of the odors. See County Officials Determine Water Well as Source of H2S Odor

Fence-line monitors installed at the Venoco Ellwood Onshore Facility measure H2S in the ambient air, regardless of the source. Six fence-line H2S monitors are strategically located at the Venoco Ellwood Onshore Facility based on potential sources of H2S releases at the facility; see map. The alarm threshold for these monitors is 0.3 parts per million (ppm) H2S. On the morning of October 9, 2016, these fence-line monitors began recording levels above this alarm threshold. The maximum reading recorded by these fence-line monitors between October 9, 2016 and October 11, 2016 was 3.8 ppm H2S. The levels of H2S measured at the fence-line monitors range from generating a noticeable odor to generating some temporary health effects — such as nausea, headaches, minor respiratory symptoms, and watery eyes — following extended exposure. Readings have remained below the alarm threshold since the early morning on October 11, 2016.

See below for the Venoco Ellwood fence-line monitor data for times when the readings exceeded the alarm threshold of 0.3 ppm H2S. Dates and times not included in the tables below had readings of 0.0, 0.1 or 0.2 ppm H2S. Levels below 2 ppm H2S may be within the odor threshold, but are not within the health effects concentration ranges, according to OSHA.

Sunday, October 9, 2016 AM
Sunday, October 9, 2016 PM
Monday, October 10, 2016 AM
Monday, October 10, 2016 PM
Tuesday, October 11, 2016 AM

During the late morning and early afternoon on Tuesday, October 11, 2016, after the water well had been plugged, a District inspector took measurements of H2S in the ambient air with the handheld analyzer. Measurements were taken at the following locations: water well drilling project property entrance, water well drilling site, Venoco Ellwood Onshore Facility, and 4 neighborhoods in Goleta. The analyzer did not detect H2S in the ambient air at any of these locations.

Complaints

To file a complaint with the District, call (805) 961-8810. Find more information on the District’s Complaints Process.