A Los Angeles City Council committee recommended Tuesday that the city take a closer look at the health of residents near the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility and examine the quality of their drinking water.
The move comes in response to an independent report that raised questions about both.
City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who represents the Porter Ranch area, which was severely affected by a massive methane leak from the facility in 2015 and 2016, introduced a motion in October that would direct the Department of Water and Power to report on any water testing the utility conducted before, during and after the leak. The motion specifically asks for a report on lithium levels in the water supply.
The motion was approved without objection by the Energy, Climate Change and Environmental Justice Committee. It was drafted in response to a study released in October by Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, who tested urine and hair samples from 106 Porter Ranch residents and also tested the water supply in some homes.
Nordella reported that urine samples showed elevated levels of styrene and ethylbenzene, while hair samples revealed statistically significant higher levels of uranium and lithium compared to averages in the rest of California and the United States.
The report also found lithium was detected in the water of homes served by the DWP, while homes with non-DWP water had no detectable levels of lithium.
Albert Gastelum, director of water quality for the LADWP, told the committee the department had already done some testing and found the lithium was coming from its northern aqueduct waters.
"We have some springs and creeks up there that are the source of lithium along with several other minerals that we get in our water," he said.
He also repeated the department's earlier assertion that the LADWP lithium level is considered a trace amount, and the Environmental Protection Agency does not test for it.
Councilman Paul Koretz said a link between lithium and dementia has been found -- possibly referring to a study released in August by JAMA Psychiatry researchers who found a potential link between dementia and lithium consumption in drinking water. The results of the study depended upon the levels of lithium, with lower and higher doses lowering the rates of the disease but moderate levels raising it.
"EPA notwithstanding, I think we should be looking at this issue as something we do test for and we do try to regulate on our own," Koretz said.
"If there is a dementia connection, certainly, anecdotally, I see in my district a very high rate of dementia among people who have lived here their whole lives and drinking tap water in Los Angeles their whole lives. I think we should be a little more careful in looking into this issue."
In response to Nordella's report, the LADWP in October issued a statement saying lithium "is a naturally occurring earth metal found in soil, rocks, dusts, surface water, groundwater and seawater."
"It is not regulated by the U.S. (Environmental Protection Agency) in drinking water and there is no public health goal, which would be a first stepin acknowledging a potential health affect and setting a regulatory limit. Because of this, lithium is not routinely tested for by LADWP. The trace levels cited as detected in the study would be expected to be found in most water supplies in the United States and are not harmful. There is no cause for the public to be concerned or alarmed by the finding cited in the report."
The Aliso Canyon gas leak, which was discovered in October 2015 and continued emanating methane until February 2016, poured an estimated 109,000 tons of methane into the air and forced an estimated 15,000 Porter Ranch area residents to temporarily relocate.
Limited operations resumed at the facility in late July with the blessing of state regulators. Efforts by Los Angeles County officials to block the resumed operations failed in court.
Earlier this year, the Southern California Gas Co. reached an $8.5 million settlement with South Coast Air Quality Management District over the leak, which included $1 million in funding for an SCAQMD-sponsored health study on the impacts of the leak, although county health officials said that $35 million to $40 million would be needed for an adequate study.