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Lawyers, medical experts weigh in at community meeting over Porter Ranch gas leak

Lawyers, medical experts weigh in at community meeting over Porter Ranch gas leak
Students and parents protest in Porter Ranch on Dec. 11, calling for Los Angeles Unified officials to relocate students from two schools because of health concerns related to a leaking gas well. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

More than 1,500 people gathered in a Porter Ranch church auditorium Thursday evening, where medical experts addressed the possible health effects of a leaking natural gas storage facility and lawyers handed out applications for representation.

Speakers included environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose firm joined three others in filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of plaintiffs that include more than 4,000 families seeking temporary alternative housing while the Southern California Gas Co. attempts to stop the leak.

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Residents say the leak is causing headaches, nose bleeds, vomiting and respiratory illnesses.

Kennedy introduced himself to the crowd at Shepherd of the Hills church, about two miles from the failed injection well, as a lawyer specializing in public interest cases, including "almost every major oil spill in this country."

"If I win a case," he said, "the money goes to the clients."

An ongoing natural gas leak near Porter Ranch prompts some parents to call for area schools to be relocated.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, whose district includes Porter Ranch, drew loud applause when he took the stage and voiced a question shared by many San Fernando Valley residents affected by the leaking well: "Where's Gov. Jerry Brown?"

In an interview later, Englander said the governor has been conspicuously silent on what he described as a major disaster.

"We need the governor to declare a state of emergency," Englander said. "All the regulatory agencies with teeth work for him. If he declared a state of emergency there'd be federal funds available and we could call in FEMA."

The gas leak, acknowledged by SoCal Gas on Oct. 23, prompted the Los Angeles Unified School District board on Thursday to authorize the temporary relocation of about 1,900 students from two schools.

Los Angeles County has declared a state of emergency in the Porter Ranch area.

Medical experts in the fields of neurology, pediatrics, pulmonology, psychology and emergency, critical care and veterinary medicine urged residents to document every problem they experience that might be related to the leaking well.

Veterinarian David Smith suggested they remove pets from exposure.

SoCal Gas this week opened a "resource center" in a Porter Ranch shopping mall for families experiencing health symptoms or seeking temporary alternative housing until the leak is stopped, which the utility believes may take at least three to four months.

Among the first people to visit the center was Chiara Scudieri, 50, a 13-year resident of Porter Ranch. After a 30-minute consultation on Thursday, she expressed mixed feelings about the service.

"The SoCal Gas reps were very kind and cheery, but said it could take three weeks to find alternative housing," she said, shaking her head in frustration.

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"After I told them that I get nauseous every time the wind blows," she said, "they gave me two websites I can go to for information on air filters. If I buy and install them, they promised to reimburse me."

Follow me @LouisSahagun

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