A massive gas leak in Los Angeles County has forced health officials to order the evacuation of a thousand families and relocate them to nearby hotels, possibly for months.
Natural gas, mostly methane, is leaking from an underground storage facility 8,750 feet deep near the bedroom community of Porter Ranch, and residents concerned for their health are fleeing their homes.
SoCal Gas maintains the natural gas isn’t dangerous, nor does it threaten residents long-term health. However, mercaptans, added chemicals that aid in leak detection, are making residents sick, according to the Los Angeles Times.
More than 350 families have already been evacuated from this upper-class neighborhood, and hundreds more are in the process of being relocated. Area hotels are packed to bursting as residents face the prospect of spending Christmas in a hotel.
Many concerned parents have pulled their children from the Porter Ranch Community School to protect their health. The remaining students have complained of shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness from the rotten-egg smell. SoCal Gas officials recently announced their intention to pay for and install charcoal air filters to help clean the air, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.
So far, there’s no official count on the number of children whose parents chose to keep them home. Staying away from the gas leak simply isn’t an option for some students, as their nearby homes have been engulfed with the rotten egg sulfur smell as well, leaving them no place to retreat to.
The pervasive rotten egg stink settled on the community like a shroud 40 days ago, and residents have since complained of nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, vomiting, and other ailments.
The stench comes wafting into area homes through windows and under doors and fills the very air outside, forcing residents to flee their homes for relief.
The gas company has failed six times to stop the leak; their latest effort involved filling the pipe with liquid. They’ve now resorted to their backup plan: drilling a relief well to stop the gas leak and sealing it permanently with cement, a process that could take months.
SoCal Gas is facing widespread criticism from L.A. City Council members, county supervisors, and area residents who condemn the company for their failure to stop the leak and their slow response time.
They’re demanding an investigation into the cause of the leak as well as health studies to monitor the neighborhood’s air quality. Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to ask the governor to direct the state Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to take immediate action to stop the leak and preserve the health of area residents.
SoCal President and CEO Dennis Arriola addressed the Porter Ranch community during the meeting Tuesday and apologized for the leak, according to KPCC Radio.
“SoCal gas has proudly served our customers and our communities. But unfortunately, this is not one of our prouder moments.”
The California Air Resources Board reports 50,000 kilograms of methane are leaking into the air every hour, a 25 percent increase in California’s greenhouse gas emission rate.
The company claims the risk of a large explosion, similar to the San Bruno catastrophe that killed eight, are small. However, the Los Angeles County Fire Department says the danger of the gas igniting is very real.
The gas company also floated the idea of releasing large amounts of odor neutralizer into the air, an idea condemned by air quality officials.
For now, hundreds of families must face the prospect of a holiday spent in a hotel.
[Photo by Brian Melley/AP]