The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors directed the health department Tuesday to start planning a study of the possible health impacts associated with a massive natural gas leak and a shuttered battery recycling plant that over decades spewed toxic pollution.
The Porter Ranch natural gas leak is considered the largest in U.S. history. Many residents temporarily relocated to escape the methane fumes, which they say gave them symptoms of severe illness, including nosebleeds, vomiting and headaches.
Pollution from the Exide Technologies plant in Vernon is another environmental and health issue. California regulators say up to 10,000 homes in southeast L.A. County have been contaminated with poisonous lead because of pollutants emitted by the facility.
The South Coast Air Quality Management District in January ordered Southern California Gas Co., which owns the gas well that leaked, to fund a health impacts study. But the company and air regulators have disagreed over the issue, and the AQMD in July sued the gas company to obtain a court order mandating the funding, according to a board agenda document.
The county counsel's office is expected to join the AQMD in its legal efforts to have the gas company pay for the study.
Southern California Gas Co. supports a "prompt health study" and is prepared to commit "up to $400,000 to fund the reasonable costs" of such a study as part of its "stipulated abatement order" with the AQMD, Chris Gilbride, a company spokesman, said in an email Wednesday.
The motion sponsored by Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Sheila Kuehl asks the Department of Public Health to partner with the AQMD in coming up with a scope for the health study of the Porter Ranch gas leak, which according to the department director could have a cost ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions.
It asks for an independent panel of "scientific experts to conduct the study, and for a report in 21 days describing ways the county can move the study forward.
Supervisors also approved an amendment to the motion by Supervisor Hilda L. Solis to have the study include health effects of pollution from the Exide battery plant.
Residents from neighborhoods around the natural gas leak told supervisors that many have continued to experience symptoms long after the leak was sealed. They talked about hair falling out in clumps, fainting spells, a bad cough and a general feeling of having the flu.
Matt Pakucko, a resident of Porter Ranch and president of the Save Porter Ranch group, said 5,000 people are still having symptoms. He held up a bag filled with bloody tissues he said came from residents suffering nosebleeds.
"This is life in Porter Ranch since the blowout," Pakucko said.
11:05 a.m. Sept. 28: This article was updated with comment from Southern California Gas. Co.