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AQMD Issues Violation to Phillips 66 Refinery for Releasing Rotten-Egg Odors

Sept. 21, 2012

The South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a violation to the Phillips 66 refinery in Wilmington this week for causing widespread sulfur or “rotten-egg” odors in the nearby community.

The odors occurred on Sept. 17. AQMD officials believe they were caused when vapors leaked from a storage tank at the refinery as the tank was being filled with petroleum product. After receiving odor complaints that day, AQMD deployed field staff to collect samples of outdoor air at the refinery and in the areas surrounding it.

Although higher levels of air contaminants were detected close to the odor source inside the refinery, concentrations measured in the communities surrounding the refinery were similar to the levels typically seen across Southern California.

The odors followed a complete refinery shut-down on Sept. 15 due to a power cut. During the shut-down, which lasted about four hours, the refinery burned or “flared” gas from its flare stacks. The resulting plumes of black smoke could be seen across much of the South Bay area.

AQMD received more than 125 complaints from residents due to the smoke. The agency now is investigating whether any air quality rules or regulations were violated during the flaring incident.

During that incident, AQMD deployed inspectors to the communities surrounding the refinery and collected samples of outdoor air. An analysis of those samples found air contaminants at concentrations typical of those seen across the region.

AQMD received hundreds of complaints last week for similar sulfur odors when high winds transported odors from the Salton Sea across a wide swath of the Southland. Odors detected in the South Bay on Sept. 17 were from the Phillips 66 refinery and not the Salton Sea, AQMD officials said.

Refineries typically flare gases as a safety and air pollution control measure during planned and unplanned equipment shutdowns. For more information on flaring, see AQMD’s flaring web page at

AQMD is the air pollution control agency for Orange County and major portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

This page updated: September 21, 2012