Parents Demand Relocation of Students Near Porter Ranch Gas Leak Site

Protesters demonstrated at a Porter Ranch school Friday, demanding the Los Angeles Unified School District relocate students away from the northwest San Fernando Valley gas leak site and its potential long term health risks.

Parents from Castlebay Lane Charter School and Porter Ranch Community School said they should not be forced to choose between their childrens' health and their education.

"We understand that relocation is a big task," Dee Ann Abernathy said. "But we believe our children are worth it."

LAUSD spokeswoman Shannon Haber said in a statement that the district is preparing an action plan to address the parents' concerns but did not provide specifics.

"We continue to monitor the air quality at Castlebay Lane Charter and Porter Ranch Community schools, and are posting the results, along with related information, on our website," the statement read.

Some parents, however, believe the district is stalling.

"Every meeting since we've been to, nothing has changed," Abernathy said.

Abernathy said the children who attend the schools have been suffering with vomiting, headaches, stomach aches, rashes and nosebleeds because of the gas leak. Abernathy said her family moved to a hotel in Simi Valley and her daughter has been missing school because she is sick.

A temporary flight restriction was issued Thursday over the site.

The FAA order requested by county and state emergency management authorities applies to flights below 2,000 feet and within a half-mile radius of the leak in Porter Ranch. Authorities issued the restriction, which will be in place until early March, due to concerns that fumes from the leak could be ignited from the air, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The only exception will be relief flights under the authority of the Los Angeles County Fire  Department, according to the FAA.

The leak was discovered Oct. 23 by crews at the Aliso Canyon Storage Field facility near Northridge. Utility officials initially said the issue would be resolved in a few days or weeks, but later said the leak could actually take months to fix. County health officials say they have received reports of residents experiencing nosebleeds, dizziness, nausea and headaches linked to the leak and have ordered Southern California Gas Co. to offer free, temporary relocation to area residents.

The leak prompted a state agency to issue a second emergency order to the Southern California Gas Co. Thursday, expanding on a previous directive requiring the utility to provide additional "data, daily briefings and a schedule for identified pathways to seal" the natural gas storage well. Utility spokesman Javier Mendoza said the Gas Co. was already working with experts from the division since the day the leak was confirmed, according to City News Service.

"Today's order formalizes a plan of action, developed under DOGGR's supervision," Mendoza said. "This plan covers important aspects of our operations as we progress through the relief well phase.

"We have been and will continue to fully comply with DOGGR's order. For example, we are providing DOGGR with all required information, working with experts to determine effective means to decrease and capture emissions, continuing our drilling operations on the relief well and preparing a site for a second relief well."

The division had previously issued an order to the utility on Nov. 18. The new order comes as Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate the leak.

"This gas leak is not just a smelly nuisance, it's public health concern," Sherman said. "There have been reports of dizziness, headaches and nose bleeds in the area -- even causing some residents to relocate. The EPA should be investigating the cause of this leak and help propose action to fix the situation before more people become ill."

Last week, utility officials said crews began drilling a relief well that will ultimately allow them to cap the leak, but the process is expected to take months. Crews eventually will pump fluids and cement through the relief well into the leaking well to stop the flow and permanently seal it.

No evacuation order for the area has been issued but 700 families have voluntarily left the area and another 1,000 are applying for relocation services, officials said. The Gas Company also opened a community resource center on Wednesday for Porter Ranch residents with questions or concerns. A dedicated website has also been established.

In addition to offering extended stay accommodations for families seeking to temporarily relocate from Porter Ranch, the Gas Company is also offering reimbursements for customers who make their own accommodation arrangements, according to the utility.

Copyright CNS - City News Service
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