The family of a deceased 79-year-old Porter Ranch woman with lung cancer filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday that alleges a monthslong gas leak at the nearby Aliso Canyon plant is to blame for "exacerbating" her health problems, complaints of which have rankled the Southern California neighborhood.
The complaint against Southern California Gas Company claims the gas, detected in October, entered Zelda Rothman's home about three miles from the Aliso Canyon site in the San Fernando Valley and made her health problems worse.
"The gas replaced precious oxygen in the air that she breathed, causing her to suffer from difficult and labored breathing," according to the complaint. "As a result, she required the use of an oxygen tank twenty-four hours a day. The gas, and carcinogens within the gas, also weakened Ms. Rothman and caused intense headaches and migraines, among other symptoms. The gas leak deteriorated her health and ultimately hastened her death."
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Despite being diagnosed with lung cancer, a neighbor said Rothman remained active.
"She was active. Traveled more than I did even after the diagnosis," said Sandra Fantini. She noted that Rothman told her the smell bothered her sometimes after the leak began.
Her son said that by Thanksgiving, his mother was using a cane.
"You could smell it outside, you could smell it in the house," Michael Rothman said.
Rothman said on New Year's his mother required oxygen and was later hospitalized. She returned home just days before she died last week. He blames the leak for adding pain to those weeks and shortening her life.
"They poisoned my mom. They exacerbated her already frail condition."
Attorney Scott Glovksy filed the wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday.
"We're not claiming the gas company caused her cancer," he said. "We're claiming that the gas company hastened her death."
Thousands of people living near the Aliso Canyon facility in Porter Ranch have temporarily relocated, two local schools have closed and thousands of students have been relocated for the rest of the school year. Residents have complained of a recurring strong odor, and many have reported becoming ill with headaches, nausea and respiratory symptoms.
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has offered assurances that such symptoms are short-term and tied directly to nontoxic odorants in the gas, and that there is no reason to expect long-term, chronic health effects. However, officials said last month that those conclusions are based on sampling done to determine "instantaneous" chemical levels, and do not provide as accurate a picture of average concentrations as do samples taken over a 12- to 24-hour period.
The lawsuit comes a day after California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a lawsuit against Southern California Gas Company that alleges violations of state law. SoCalGas issued a statement Tuesday saying company is "working hard to both stop the leak and address our neighbors' concerns. Beyond that, we do not comment on pending litigation and will respond to the lawsuit through the judicial process."
In response to an inquiry about the lawsuit, the utility issued this statement:
"We are sorry to hear about the family's loss. We are reviewing the lawsuit and will allow the judicial process to take its course."
The city and county of Los Angeles have already filed suit against SoCalGas over the leak, which was discovered Oct. 23. Late last month, Southern California air regulators approved a sweeping abatement order aimed at minimizing the release of natural gas.
The company launched a site that includes reports on air quality readings from a network of 20 stations from which samples are evaluated for certain hydrocarbons and sulfur compounds. The company maintains it has not found levels above health risk levels set by law.