The Lancaster-based law office of R. Rex Parris, which represents numerous residents, wants the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) to release its communications with the gas company regarding test results of the air quality of the Aliso Canyon storage facility and surrounding Porter Ranch community.
“These are public documents and we have a right to see them,” said attorney Patricia Oliver.
A methane gas leak from a well at the storage facility managed by the Southern California Gas company caused thousands of Porter Ranch residents to leave their homes and schools.
The leak was capped three weeks ago. But residents say they are experiencing the same health issues that were caused as a result of breathing noxious gas fumes — including headaches, nausea, nosebleeds and skin rashes — as they return to their homes.
“Many people were impacted [by the leak] and now they have to move back to the scene of the crime,” Oliver said. “The most difficult issue is when the public is told it is safe, and yet they still get sick. And these are not illnesses you would say are stressed-induced. How does a two-year-old get another rash as soon she goes home? How does an adult get another bloody nose?”
Oliver said that lawyers were negotiating with AQMD officials on Wednesday, March 9, to make said communications available. If the negotiations fall through, Oliver said she planned to file suit in Los Angeles Superior Court to try and compel the AQMD to release documents.
Approximately 200 complaints by residents returning to their homes have been reported online to the L.A. county Department of Public Health, according to Alexandra Nagy of the Food & Water Watch, one of several grassroots’ organizations monitoring SoCalGas’ handling of the situation.
“I know someone who did go to a hospital because the health issues in their home were so persistent,” Nagy said.
She said residents have also reported oily petroleum substances on the inside and outside of homes and cars.
“Their homes have turned into little toxic hotboxes,” Nagy said.
Residents made their latest anger known at an outdoor rally in Porter Ranch, on the corner of Rinaldi Street and Corbin Avenue, on March 4. One of the protesters held up a sign saying “R.I.P.,” for their lost pets.
“There have been several families reporting that their dogs have died,” Nagy said. “I’ve heard from people at the rally and on Facebook. Some pets have had the same kind of rashes and also breathing problems. They couldn’t withstand the leak.”
Nagy said that while gas company officials and state regulators are monitoring the air quality at the site, little is being done regarding the quality of safety in the community.
“It’s very frustrating, with the timeline that folks have to move back,” Nagy said.
“There’ve been no tests inside homes by the Health Department. Some people have found residue on kitchen counters, walls, and other home surfaces inside.”
County Health officials said they are testing for methane levels inside 100-200 households to determine whether it is safe for people to return home. But residents remain dubious because, they say, the tests don’t include looking for other compounds such as mercaptans and benzene, and ignore the health symptoms residents currently face —again — when coming back.
“[Officials] keeps saying everything is fine because the air quality is better … there is still something wrong, and they don’t know what it is,” Nagy said. “And who pays for it?”
Matt Pakucko, president of the organization Save Porter Ranch, said he, too, began having problems after moving back into his home.
“I would get headaches within an hour,” Pakucko said. “My girlfriend got headaches and heart palpitations. We’re not staying there.”
He also wants SoCalGas to pay for a cleanup.
“We are still pushing for the gas company to clean our homes, because what they did was a toxic spill and there is still residue. Even though the air checks out at the testing stations, we don’t live at the testing stations. We live in our houses.”
Displaced families, whose out-of-pocket expenses are being reimbursed by SoCalGas, were originally given 48 hours to move back into their homes once the well was capped. The deadline was extended to eight days, and then 30 days. The present deadline for the gas company to end reimbursements for expenses like lodging, food and transportation is March 18.
Pakucko added that health officials closed down Holleigh Bernson Park in Porter Ranch on Tuesday, March 8, until further notice after evidence of a brown substance was found on benches, fountains and playground equipment.
“There was oily residue all over,” Pakucko said. “The Health Department first sent their people over there [on March 6] and they found no residue. We had pictures posted on our Facebook page.They finally went back out there with us, along with Haz-Mat personnel, and we had to point it out.
Pakucko added it didn’t hurt that television news cameras were present.
“The scary thing: that is Health Department,” he continued. “They are doing the surveys and interior testing of our homes. And they couldn’t see residue in the park. I’m afraid of them coming up with nothing.”
Pakucko said the next community meeting with SoCalGas officials would be March 17.
According to its website, SoCalGas officials said more than 2,000 milage reimbursement checks totaling approximately $1.9 million were mailed out on March 4.
The website also stated the company is willing to provide money to clean up homes.
“We continue to offer exterior home cleaning for the homeowners who have reported brown spots they believe to be related to the leaking well. Spots have generally been reported on outside surfaces. However, we will also assess reports of residue on surfaces inside homes,” the site stated.
City News Service reported that the gas company plans to visit about 140 homes closest to the previously leaking Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility this week to determine if exterior cleaning work is needed, and it is also cleaning playground equipment and fencing at a series of local parks.
SoCalGas also intends to do cleaning work at Palisades Park at Tampa
Avenue and Braemore Road; Viking Park at Viking and Nau avenues; and Porter Ridge Park at Sesnon Boulevard and Beaufait Avenue.
“We are committed to helping communities affected by the leak return to normal as fast as possible, and when residents expressed concerns about brown spots at local parks, we immediately mobilized crews to address the issue,” said Gillian Wright, the company’s vice president for customer services.
The leak began last Oct. 23, and sent tons of methane and other toxins into the atmosphere for 112 days. The gas company and state agency the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources officially declared the leak permanently capped on Feb. 18.
Residents have demanded the entire storage facility be permanently closed. But officials are resistant, saying the 115 wells at Aliso Canyon supply as much as 60 percent of the gas used by Southern California Gas’ 5.6 million residential customers, 215,000 commercial and industrial users, and 52 electric power plants.
City News Service contributed to this report.