A Valley area physician says there is not enough long-term study and analysis of the physical reactions caused by the gas leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility near Porter Ranch to resume full operations by the Southern California Gas company.
Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, an emergency room and Family Medicine physician and medical director of Porter Ranch Quality Care who held a press conference at the medical center on Wednesday, Feb. 8, said until a thorough study is done by an outside independent agency, and a scientific conclusion is drawn, “it is nothing short of an act of negligence to re-open the Aliso Canyon facility. The people of the community deserve better.”
Nordella said following the natural gas leak escaping from an underground well — which sent more than 100,000 tons of methane and other chemicals including tert-butyl mercaptan, tetrahydrothiophene and benzene into the air from October 2015 until the well was capped in February 2016 — caused the medical center to be “inundated” with people complaining of numerous symptoms.
“They were broad but had a common denominator — eye and nasal irritation, headache, nosebleed, sore throat, loss of voice, cough, shortness of breath, vomiting, skin rashes,” Nordella said. “I anticipated our politicians, department of public health and community leaders would recruit the appropriate parties to investigate, so the short- and long-term health effects could be revealed, but to no avail.”
SoCalGas had to relocate thousands of residents at its own expense until the well was capped. The residents eventually returned to there homes but there are still complaints of illnesses even though the homes were cleaned.
The gas company, which paid a $4 million fine in a settlement with the county Prosecutor’s office and still faces numerous civil lawsuits, has been asking state regulators to let it resume pumping pressurized natural gas into the storage facility.
Nordella has been conducting his own study with 50 patients on the effects of the leak since November 2015.
“I will disclose to you that I have not been contacted by any representatives from the Gas company, or its holding company, Sempra Energy. Additionally, I have not been retained by any law firm or solo practicing attorneys. I have not had any communications with any politicians or representatives of their teams. I am not a member of the ‘Save Porter Ranch’ or ‘Food & Water Watch’. I’m not involved with the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council. Also, I’m not financially incentivized by recruiting or treating additional patients in my office. I am not reimbursed for any time spent outside my office consulting with patients or reviewing paperwork,” the doctor said.
“I am about as neutral as one could be. What motivates me is the people, the patients and the science.”
He said he will meet with Los Angeles county Department of Public Heath officials today, Feb. 9, for the first time “with the intent” of collaborating.
“I had expressed to them the lack of trust the people of this community had, as well as myself. If we were going to move forward with a proper investigation, trust was the first bridge we needed to build. They agreed,” Nordella said.
He said his study looked for any health abnormalities in patients that could be related to any specific toxic chemicals the community was exposed to. “Unfortunately, the information I had privilege to did not allude to the exact chemicals, how much, and for how long [people] were exposed. From my understanding, these issues are still being challenged at present.”
Nordella said his findings had not yet been fully analyzed. But he felt confident in making the following statements:
— After approximately one year of treating numerous patients to now being inundated from people within the community that have come forward revealing their symptoms, physical findings and diagnosis that “people are sick, contrary to public statements made by numerous sources.”
— The symptomatology and physical findings were common to all of those exposed. “They are clearly different from those with a common upper respiratory tract infection, seasonal allergy, sinus infections and viral bronchitis.”
— The patients he examined that lived in the area and who were exposed to the continual gas became symptomatic. “When they left the community they improved. And when they returned back home to their communities, they again became symptomatic.”
— There were abnormalities in initial testing “that could not be explained by the patient’s past medical histories,” and that further investigation was needed.
“I’m extremely concerned that I’ve just scratched the surface, and there are potentially other significant medical cases within the community,” Nordella said. “As a physician, the findings have only generated more questions…and clearly have not been scientifically or sufficiently answered by the parties in charge.”
Nancy Hernandez, Chatsworth resident “who lives in the affected area” was among those also pressing for more studies before the storage facility reopened.
She said her family had sustained numerous illnesses. Her 10-year-old son had neurological behavior changes and her 17-year-old daughter needed inhalers to combat exacerbated asthma reactions.
“(Any long-term study is) going to take a very long time. But it should have already been studied,” Hernandez said after the press conference. “I did a toxicology test for my son and he tested extremely high on benzene — this was right during the blowout. And those tests are very expensive. We didn’t do the rest of the family because we couldn’t afford to do it.”
Jane Fowler of Granada Hills, whose residence is near the facility, said she continues to suffer from the leaks.
“My dog is dead. My cats are sick; they’re balding,” Fowler said. “They are confused, and can’t use their litter box except when we were relocated. I have also lost half my hair. I have stomach issues: some days it looks like I’m pregnant, because whatever’s in the air that particular day will inflame it and it will stay as long as that particular thing is in the air.
“I don’t know why [anyone would fight any long-term studies]. But I end up feeling suspicious because, why won’t you do a health study? [SoCalGas] writes me these letters, ‘dear neighbor…’ Then help us. Find out what is affecting us. Because this isn’t one or two or 100 families, we’re talking about thousands of families that have been affected. You know what? They’re gonna make their money wherever. Bottom line they’re going to make their money. And hopefully it will be in renewable energy, clean energy.”