On January 4, 2022, attorneys at the PARRIS Law Firm and Bloom Injury Law filed a mass tort lawsuit on behalf of El Segundo residents against LA Sanitation for causing the Hyperion sewage spill.

What Went Wrong at Hyperion

When raw sewage first arrives at Hyperion, it enters the Headworks facility, where it is filtered through a piece of machinery called a bar screen. Bar screens remove the largest debris from the wastewater entering the plant.

Following the July 11 catastrophe, LA Sanitation claimed that an unprecedented amount of trash in the sewer system clogged these bar screens, leading to the sewage flood. However, the various monitoring systems at Hyperion should have detected any unexpected debris flow before it reached the plant.

PARRIS Law Firm and Bloom Injury Law’s complaint highlights numerous instances where LA Sanitation ignored warning signs, mismanaged employees and machinery, and put the health of nearby residents at risk.

Faulty Machinery

The bar screens were designed to be run through an automatic control system, which would have provided failsafe protections in the event of a mechanical failure.   An automatic control system would essentially function as the bar screens’ auto-pilot.

However, the automatic control system’s sensors were deemed unreliable shortly after installation. LA Sanitation opted to manually operate the bar screens on fast mode without adding the appropriate policies and procedures needed to do so safely.

The constant operation of these bar screens on fast mode caused abnormal wear and tear on the machinery, resulting in unexpected mechanical failures in July 2020 and April 2021.

LA Sanitation’s director and general manager, Enrique C. Zaldivar, P.E., resigned in May 2021—one month after the second bar screen failure. As the complaint alleges, he was not present to train his successor, Barbara Romero, who has no formal engineering training.

“There was a clear crisis of leadership at Hyperion long before Hyperion flooded with raw sewage,” said PARRIS Law Firm attorney Patricia K. Oliver. “LA Sanitation officials should have known a catastrophe was inevitable.”

Clogged bar screens at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant
Clogged bar screens at the Hyperion Water Reclamation Plant in Playa Del Rey, CA.

Poor Management

On the day of the sewage spill, only one employee was physically present at the Headworks facility at Hyperion. This single employee was expected to (1) manually operate the bar screen system on fast mode and (2) visually monitor every aspect of operations at the Headworks, including the bar screens.

The field operator was on the second of two back-to-back shifts at Headworks when multiple alarms went off indicating problems with the sewage intake system. There is no indication that the employee noticed these early alarms because the employee had to handle other repairs in the chopper pumps, the second step of handling the waste.

By 4:30 p.m., all eight bar screens had failed, and multiple Hyperion employees were unable to open the emergency gate to prevent a sewage flood. By the time employees finally opened the gate at 4:30 a.m. the next day, 72 acres of the facility had flooded.

“This is a massive raw sewage spill from one of the world’s largest water treatment facilities,” said PARRIS Law Firm attorney Alexander R. Wheeler. “This facility has been mismanaged for years, and now El Segundo residents are paying the price for LASAN’s disregard for public safety.”

How the Sewage Spill Affected El Segundo Residents

LA Sanitation was required to immediately report any release (or potential release) of toxins once they became aware of the emergency—that is, at 4:30 p.m. on July 11. Despite this, LA Sanitation waited until 7:59 p.m. that day to submit a report, which didn’t go into detail about the potential emissions and the impact they may have on nearby residents.

A primary byproduct of sewage decomposition is hydrogen sulfide, a hazardous gas with a rotten-egg smell. At low levels, hydrogen sulfide is known to irritate the nose, throat, and eyes and cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. 

In the weeks that followed July 11, hydrogen sulfide and other unknown toxins were released into the nearby community of El Segundo. Hyperion fenceline monitoring revealed levels as high as 657 ppb—well over the world standard for acute hydrogen sulfide exposure. The noxious odors and emissions from the plant were so severe that the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued 39 notices of violation to Hyperion.

Despite this, LA Sanitation failed to test for hydrogen sulfide emissions at night, when exposure to the gas is worst. The plant failed to test for hydrogen sulfide at all in the first two weeks after the spill.

“Zero leadership, zero support, and zero guidance – this is what LA Sanitation offered the residents whose health and well-being was put at risk because of LASAN’s carelessness,” said attorney Mark Bloom of Bloom Injury Law.

Join the Hyperion Sewage Spill Lawsuit

If you are an El Segundo resident affected by the noxious odors coming from Hyperion, you can take a stand against LA Sanitation’s carelessness.

But hurry—you must sign up for the lawsuit before January 11, 2022 to fully recover your damages against LA Sanitation. If you wait, you may lose your chance to recover all of the damages you suffered from being exposed to hydrogen sulfide.

Join hundreds of El Segundo residents in taking action against Hyperion. Contact PARRIS Law Firm or Bloom Injury Law for a free case review today.