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Gas company finishes cleaning Porter Ranch parks as fallout from leak continues

Gas company finishes cleaning Porter Ranch parks as fallout from leak continues
L.A. City Councilman Mitch Englander, right, inspects playground equipment with a park official after Holleigh Bernson Memorial Park was closed because an oily residue was found on the playground in Porter Ranch. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Southern California Gas Co. said Saturday that it has completed the cleaning of four public parks in Porter Ranch after residents complained about oily residue found on playground equipment.

Residents of the San Fernando Valley community have complained of suffering from headaches and respiratory problems in connection with a massive natural gas leak in Aliso Canyon, a leak that was recently plugged after four months. Now, as hundreds of displaced families have returned home, some say they have discovered brown droplets of oil around their community.

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As a result, the gas company began cleaning Holleigh Bernson Memorial Park on Tuesday before moving on to three other parks the next day. In a statement, officials said they also began cleaning Shepherd of the Hills Church on Friday; two parks in private communities are also scheduled for cleaning next week.

"Our top priorities are helping reassure residents their community is safe to return to and making the return home as seamless as possible," said Gillian Wright, the gas company's vice president for customer services. "Extensive sampling of outdoor air in the community and testing of residue from the well has shown that the community is a safe place to live and we hope these services will provide residents with additional peace of mind."

Acting on a tip from a resident, a two-person team from the Los Angeles County health department visited Holleigh Bernson park Sunday to look for oil residue. The crew said it did not find anything, but two days later, staff members from Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander's office visited the park and found oil on the playground equipment.

The oil was probably forced out of the leaking natural gas well known as SS-25 during the repair process. In addition to the playgrounds, people returning home have said they are finding oil on their homes and cars.

The gas company said Saturday that assessments and cleaning are underway at 200 homes where brown spots have been reported.

Health officials say prolonged contact with the oil can cause skin irritation.

During the gas leak, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health received more than 700 illness complaints, including headaches, upset stomachs and respiratory issues, during the leak. Health officials blamed mercaptans, an odorant added to the methane, for those problems.

But in the weeks since the leak stopped, more than 300 people called the Department of Public Health to report continued health problems.

Meanwhile, there were 2,706 households still in temporary accommodations as of March 6. Southern California Gas Co. said it will stop paying the expenses of relocated families on March 18, a date the gas company was forced to accept after the county took legal action to provide customers with more time to return home.

A county attorney said last week, however, that she might file for another extension.

Twitter: @ByMattStevens 

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