Health Concerns Linger as Porter Ranch Relocation Program Nears End

An Aliso Canyon gas leak that sickened Porter Ranch residents and forced many to evacuate has been stopped, but residents of the Los Angeles suburb are still feeling the effects of what is now being called the largest methane leak in U.S. history.

On Tuesday a playground was closed in Porter Ranch when an oily residue that’s also been found on homes and vehicles was discovered by city officials. Although the park was cleaned and cleared to reopen, the situation illustrates that life in Porter Ranch has yet to return to normal.

Reports of the residue, which also caused three Porter Ranch local parks to close for cleaning on Wednesday, come less than a week before the end of the SoCalGas relocation program that has paid more than $36 million to temporarily house thousands of Porter Ranch residents who chose to relocate when the well first began leaking last year.

The program was slated to expire at the end of February but an appeals court granted an extension until March 18. With that extension due to expire soon, residents who are preparing to return home after months of uncertainty have lingering concerns about the safety of their community.

In addition to the oily substance, which SoCalGas officials say poses no health risk, residents have been complaining of symptoms similar to those reported when the well was spewing noxious gas into the atmosphere.

According to a Los Angeles County Public Health Department report, 150 people have reported symptoms such as headache, upset stomach, dizziness, and eye, nose, and skin irritation since the well was capped on February 18. While the leak was ongoing, 700 people reported adverse side effects.

The Department said that it is unsure as to why these symptoms continue to occur, referring to the ongoing symptoms as a “public health challenge.” LA County health officials plan to go door-to-door beginning on March 10 to investigate residents’ health complaints.

SoCalGas maintains that the area is safe and that residents don’t have to worry about adverse health effects.

“The air outside has no methane, it’s hard to imagine that the air inside has any methane or any odorant,” SoCalGas spokesman Mizrahi said.

Air quality agencies continue to monitor the air in town, and some have claimed it is the most tested air in the country. From when the leak of well SS-25 started on October 23, 2015 until it was capped on February 18, an estimated 100,000 tons of methane was released. A summary of the methane leak by researchers from the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration and UC Davis concludes that it was the largest in U.S. history.

Air quality tests and investigations into health complaints should help ensure that residents are safe, but as long as signs of the gas leak persist, residents will have a hard time moving on with their lives. There are also legal matters to resolve, as families, businesses, and regulators have filed lawsuits over alleged wrongdoing in connection with the leak.

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