Angry, tearful residents from Porter Ranch urged Los Angeles County Supervisors Tuesday to move forward with an independent health study that would examine the long-term effects of exposure to methane and other chemicals as a result of the massive gas leak almost a year ago in nearby Aliso Canyon.
An emotional Kristina Zitkovich said when she shops around her Porter Ranch neighborhood, she hears of residents still experiencing nosebleeds, rashes, nausea, and ‘the famous Aliso Canyon cough,’ she told the board.
“Everybody was affected and they are still being affected,” she said. “Politicians say, ‘oh, it’s probably in your head.’ No. It’s not. I’m a mom with two businesses in LA County. I don’t have time to be sick.”
Matt Pakucko, co-founder of Save Porter Ranch, held up photographs of residents with bloody noses and a large plastic baggie filled with bloodied tissues for the board to see.
“Bloody noses are a regular thing in Porter Ranch,” Pakucko said. “This is what is going on. We need a health study. Over 5,000 people are still having symptoms.”
Supervisors Michael Antonovich and Sheila Kuehl introduced a motion last week and the board approved Tuesday to have the county’s health department look into the scope of such a study and its cost. The goal is to work with the South Coast Air Quality Management District to assemble a panel of independent scientists to look into long-term impacts of the gas leak as well as why residents still report illnesses.
“Our plan is to work very closely with AQMD on this, and to recommend a scientific panel,” said Dr. Cynthia Harding, interim director for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. “We need to bring the best and smartest minds to help us.”
In terms of the cost, Harding said the scope of the study must be determined first, but it could cost “hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.”
Antonovich said the Southern California Gas Co. should pay the bill.
Public Health officials have called the massive gas leak an unprecedented event. Natural gas began leaking from one of 115 aged wells at the Aliso Canyon storage field last October, spewing nearly 100,000 metric tons of methane to become the largest event of its kind in the nation. Operated by SoCalGas, the wells and the storage facility sit high up in Aliso Canyon, above residents who live in Porter Ranch.
The AQMD issued a nuisance abatement order in January against the utility. The order included a provision that SoCalGas fund a comprehensive health study because of so many reports of headaches, nosebleeds and vomiting during the leak, forcing thousands of residents to relocate. But after the leak was controlled on Feb. 11 and capped on Feb. 18, health complaints continued from residents who moved back.
Nearly a year after the gas leak, SoCalGas officials have said they agreed to fund the “reasonable costs” of such a study under the Stipulated Abatement Order and committed to fund up to $400,000 to complete one. And they have said the AQMD has not provided SoCalGas with a proposed health study plan.
But officials with the AQMD said what SoCalGas is proposing isn’t quite a health study. The two sides have reached an impasse resulting in a civil lawsuit.
Results of tests of surface dust collected earlier this year from inside more than 100 homes near the well revealed that some houses had a complex mixture of several components. Those elements most likely contributed to headaches, nausea and nosebleeds experienced by residents, health officials said.
Since the Aliso Canyon gas leak is the first of its kind, no other data exist on what the effects are to people after such an exposure.
Richard Matthews, another Porter Ranch resident, said he continues to have problems with his vision.
“We are still having these problems,” Matthews said. “We know with the gas, came out a very large amount of crude oil mist. We have this mist being settled all around the neighborhood. We need to have this study to protect health. “
Supervisor Hilda Solis asked that the motion be amended to include support for Assembly Bill 2748. Sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, the bill proposes to help those “affected by exposure to a hazardous material or toxic substance in connection with either the environmental disaster that occurred at Southern California Gas Company’s Aliso Canyon gas storage facility or the contamination surrounding the Exide Technologies facility in the City of Vernon.”
The supervisors agreed to send a five-signature letter to Gov. Jerry Brown to express the Board of Supervisors support for Gatto’s bill.