Residents who lived near the 2015 gas leak in Porter Ranch still show elevated levels of some chemicals according to reports. Those increased chemicals include uranium, styrene and lithium. Porter Ranch residents were put at risk of long-term exposure to these chemicals because an evacuation was not ordered until months after the leak began. Lawsuits have been filed against Southern California Gas Company related to the gas leak and the company also faces criminal charges related to its handling of the matter.
Aliso Canyon Gas Leak Occurred Months Before it was Sealed
The gas leak first began in October 2015 and was discovered by Southern California Gas Company on October 23, 2015. It took until February 11—110 days—for a temporary stop to the leak. The gas leak was finally permanent stopped on February 18, 2016. In the meantime, thousands of residents were relocated to temporary housing—although that evacuation did not happen until two months after the leak started—and Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency.
The natural gas leak—technically considered a blowout because the pipes in the well were old—spilled approximately 100,000 metric tons of methane and other chemicals into the atmosphere, sickening Porter Ranch residents and creating the worst natural gas leak ever in the U.S. Once the leak was permanently capped, residents were told they had eight days to move from temporary housing back into their homes. Officials reassured the residents that there would be no long-term health risks associated with the gas leak.
Doctor Finds Evidence of Chemicals in Porter Ranch Residents
Those reassurances may have been premature, however. Dr. Jeffry Nordella, who practices medicine in Porter Ranch, conducted a follow-up study on residents, comparing their blood, urine and other health markers.
Dr. Nordella’s findings:
- Of 106 patients who underwent a urine test, 31 percent had higher than average styrene levels;
- Hair samples showed some patients had higher than average uranium levels;
- Of 51 patients first tested immediately after the gas leak, 34 percent suffered nosebleeds;
- Of 72 patients followed in the months after the gas leak, 31 percent still experienced nosebleeds; and
- In some homes—those whose water came from Los Angeles Department of Water and Power supplies—lithium was found in the water supply.
When Porter Ranch residents were allowed to return home, there was no requirement that doctors perform any follow-up with them to ensure their chemical levels returned to normal. Instead, officials analyzed air quality levels, a move Nordella criticized.
Styrene is closely related to benzene, a known carcinogen. Exposure to styrene is linked to tiredness, memory problems and headaches. Long-term exposure to lithium, which was found in the water supply of some homes, is linked dementia. It is not clear, however, whether the lithium is leaked to the SoCalGas leak or is a separate issue.
Residents Harmed by Gas Leak Angry about Treatment by Government
As they listened to Nordella’s study results, residents expressed outrage that the government did not move to protect them sufficiently from the gas leak or its long-term effects.
“This is outrageous,” said resident Kelly Browne. “They think we can make up a headache. They think we can make up a nosebleed.”
Porter Ranch residents were also angry that California’s oil and gas officials approved a plan that resumed injections 39 wells in Aliso Canyon, despite expert opinion against doing so. State Senator Henry Stern called on Governor Jerry Brown to shut down the wells pending upcoming safety reviews.
“[Gov. Brown] should shut down Aliso Canyon now and forever,” Stern said. “The fact is, we don’t know what chemicals were released in that leak.”
“Thousands of lives are at stake and are continuing to be sacrificed for SoCalGas profits,” said Alexandra Nagy, a senior organizer for Food & Water Watch.
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) said it is not required to test for lithium levels and further noted that lithium is commonly found in water supplies. The agency also said that because it does not have groundwater wells in the area of the gas leak, its water supply would not have been affected by the events at Porter Ranch.
SoCalGas Faces Criminal Charges Over Leak
In February 2016, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey filed misdemeanor criminal charges against SoCalGas Co, alleging the company released air contaminants but didn’t report the leak until three days after it began. In February 2017, the company agreed to pay $8.5 million to settle claims from the South Coast Air Quality Management District. $5.65 million was to cover emission fees linked to the leak, while $1 million was to go towards a health impact study on the effects of the leak.