To the chant of “Move our Schools, Protect our Kids,” dozens of parents and family members called on the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to relocate their children from a Porter Ranch school they say exposes them to danger from a gas leak emitting fumes for the past month.
“We love our community. It took us three years to move to this community and now we had to leave,” said Anny Kim.
She noted that she loves Castlebay Lane Elementary School in Porter Ranch, where her children attended until last week.
She worries about their health, That’s why she doesn’t stop the tears from flowing when she talks about having to move to a hotel in Marina del Rey after her relocation was approved by the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) — the owner of a natural gas well in the Aliso Canyon area that has a leak that residents of the northwest San Fernando Valley community say makes them sick.
“My son’s wheezing cleared up when we moved to Marina del Rey,” Kim said.
For weeks, she said, her two sons, Matthew, 9, and Davis, 7, had been complaining of nausea and headaches. “Children don’t get headaches or migraines,” Kim said. “The smell of gas just makes us sick.”
Kim and several other parents took over the corner of Tampa Avenue and Rinaldi Street on Dec. 11 to ask the Los Angeles Unified School District to close Castlebay Lane Elementary, and relocate their children to another school not affected by the smell.
“Relocation is a pain in the butt, but we’re willing to make that sacrifice,” said Dee Ann Abernathy, mother of a Castlebay Lane student.
Dispute Over Health Effects
SoCalGas Company officials contend the smell is due to an additive in the well, but that it doesn’t pose any health problems.
And while officials initially said it would take a few days to fix the problem, they now say it could take months.
However, Los Angeles County public health officials have said prolonged exposure to trace chemicals in natural gas leaking above Porter Ranch can cause long-term health effects. They also said levels found to date were not believed to pose a long-term risk.
SoCalGas has approved hundreds of petitions from families asking to be placed in hotels away from the school, while they repair the gas leak, something that could take months.
Abernathy’s family secured one of those relocation offers. She currently resides in a Simi Valley hotel room, and decided to pull her children from Porter Ranch schools.
“My kids are going to be going to a school in Simi Valley,” she said
She said her daughter Natalie, 6, had complained of rashes, vomiting, headaches and stomach aches since early November.
“I took her to our doctor and he agreed this is more than likely from the gas leak,” Abernathy said.
She added that several parents had stopped sending their kids to the school.
The LAUSD put air filters in the classrooms, but for Abernathy, “that’s a band-aid, not a solution.”
The School District also put a survey online asking parents what they think they should do. But they warned that if they do close the school, children won’t be able to return there until the next school year.
The protest came a day after The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposed a temporary flight restriction over Porter Ranch for fear that low-flying planes could ignite fumes from the ongoing natural gas leak.
The temporary restriction has a half-mile radius and extends to 2,000 feet altitude. According to the FAA, the restriction is set to be in place until March 8, 2016.
No pilots are allowed to operate an aircraft under the restriction. Only relief aircraft operations are allowed, under the direction of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, FAA officials said.
According to a statement from the Gas Co., the no fly zone was issued over the area “due to heightened media interest in the area, and out of an abundance of caution.”
“This is to minimize risk to workers on the site that could be caused by distractions of aircraft flying too low over the area. There is no need to evacuate,” the statement read.
However, the FAA indicated the order was requested “out of concerns that fumes from the gas leak could be ignited from the air.”
Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitchell Englander, who appeared at the parent protest on Dec. 11, told residents they must keep fighting.
“The FAA, when they put something like that in, it’s very serious,” said Englander, who represents the 12th District that covers Porter Ranch. “SoCalGas has failed miserably.”