Frustration mounts as LA County declines to subpoena SoCalGas over list of Aliso Canyon leak chemicals
Days after the 2015 Aliso Canyon gas leak started, Porter Ranch resident Becky Leveque noticed mysterious oily spots over her car and house as her panicking neighbors were fleeing their homes.
In the following days and weeks, residents complained of respiratory problems, headaches, nosebleeds and vomiting.
Leveque said nobody explained what the community was breathing during the four months of the fallout before SoCalGas, which owns a gas-storage facility at Aliso Canyon, plugged the leak.
Nearly six years later, Leveque and her neighbors still wonder what chemicals they were exposed to during that time and how their bodies will be affected.
“What were those spots?” Leveque said during a recent meeting with the L.A. County Department of Public Health. “Where did they come from?”
One crucial piece of information that could help answer questions about the chemicals, residents say, was a list of substances released during the gas leak.
Members of the Aliso Canyon Disaster Health Study Community Advisory Group, or CAH, which advises the study, pressured the Health Department to subpoena SoCalGas to release the data on the list of chemicals the company was using during the four-month blowout.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose district includes communities adjacent to Aliso Canyon, supported the idea, saying in April the Health Department believed they could obtain a chemical list from the gas company.
But then in June, the health department published an update on their Q&A page, stating that the county was not going to issue a subpoena seeking information from SoCalGas.
Members of the health study’s community advisory group, or CAG, said they were frustrated that the health department didn’t notify them directly or explained why they decided against using subpoena power.
“To do this study properly – and we’ve talked about this from the very first meeting – a full chemical list should be required of SoCalGas,” said Craig Galanti, a member of CAG. “(The Department of Public Health) has the subpoena authority and this community needs an answer of why DPH is not exercising its subpoena authority.”
Dr. Muntu Davis, Los Angeles County health officer, said during the meeting that “this subpoena decision is not our decision.”
Asked to clarify the statement or make Dr. Davis available for an interview, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Health sent a response from the county’s Q&A page, saying “the Attorney General, Los Angeles City Attorney, and County all agreed to settle the litigation against SoCalGas and resolve all disputes in the lawsuits, and the County is not going to issue a subpoena seeking information from SoCalGas. Los Angeles County and Public Health will continue to collect and compile additional data and information related to the blowout and operations at the Aliso Canyon Gas Storage Facility.”
During the meeting, health officials said to have a good understanding of what the residents have been exposed to the study needed to look into air monitoring conducted within the community.
The gas company maintains that the data collected by health officials during and after the gas leak has not detected any threat to public health.
But members said the air monitoring data was not reliable because it was not complete.
The California Council on Science and Technology concluded in its 2018 report that only 36% of chemicals emitted from Aliso Canyon were monitored during or after the Aliso Canyon gas leak. The air monitoring systems did not collect the data during the first few days of the blowout when exposures to the highest concentrations likely occurred, according to the report.
Still, residents and CAG members say many of their questions remain unanswered. The $25-million study, which emerged from the $120 million settlement between Southern California Co. and government agencies, is still in its initial phase.
Five neighborhood councils, in the meantime, which represent communities adjacent to Aliso Canyon, voted “no confidence” in the path the health study was on.
Members of the advisory group said because the air monitoring and other data were not complete it was paramount to have a clinical-based probe that would examine residents.
“Why is it not being a major requirement?” Galanti said. “If you want to avoid this critical question, then don’t answer it and that’ll just be further proof that you are not doing the proper health study. And this is a whitewash.”
Dr. Davis didn’t clarify whether the study will be clinical-based, adding that the health department is working on a set of questions for future researchers of the study to address.
“We’ve been operating under some legal constraints, some procedural constraints, but none is going to modify the data and it’s absurd to even think that our team would do that,” he said.