Local Journalism Happens With YouSupport

More Bad News For Residents Near Aliso Canyon

Elevated benzene levels represent yet another new risk for a population still learning about the extent of the disaster.

On the same day a deposition was made public revealing unsafe levels of benzene were released at Aliso Canyon, a Porter Ranch physician revealed to community members his new study to track health conditions in the area.

The leading PMQ (Person Most Qualified) about air testing, and the principal engineer in its chemical and environmental section, at the besieged SoCalGas storage facility (the site of the 2015 blowout, the worst gas release in US history), was questioned about benzene testing in the years before 2015 and just before the onset of the disaster.

The transcription of the deposition taken on May 1, 2018, as well as briefs issued by the plaintiffs and defendants in regards to chemical composition of emissions, and correspondence taking place after the deposition among the lawyers is available here: http://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/3d1481_8e54624698734f7ca2d940f19c8e6ade.pdf

During the course of the deposition the gas company’s lawyer demanded that the lawyer representing the plaintiffs stop his cross-examination of the witness on a document showing benzene levels in gas at Aliso Canyon ranging from a low 220 parts per million to 447 parts per million, levels considered 220,000 to 447,000 times higher than the reference exposure level set by the state for public exposure to benzene.

That evening at the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council monthly meeting, a local physician Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, updated community members who live near the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility as to the status of a health study into health complaints that residents attribute to their exposure to the toxins in the blowout. Dr. Nordella is part of the Health Study Technical Advisory Group (HSTAG) that has been working on defining the AQMD health study.

He pointed out the one million dollars allocated to the study will be divided into two $500,000 allotments. The first allotment will be for reassessing the community for “symptomatology.” But the doctor felt a patient-directive study would be more beneficial to the community. He devised a study that would include a sample of about 1,000 residents using simple blood tests taken every six months for at least three years. The idea is to track changes in the overall white blood count, the percentage of lymphocytes, and the platelet count. This will track benzene exposure’s effect on the subjects.

He explained that toxins will metabolize in the liver. Specifically, benzene could cause dysplastic changes in one stem cell, creating benzene oxide that can lead to cancers of the blood including AML and multiple myeloma. He noted that children are at a greater risk due to higher basal metabolic rates, as are adults with specific genetic mutations. He warned that high levels of benzene will have one end stage: that one’s bone marrow can be wiped out.

The doctor had sent the other committee members the plan for his study about six weeks prior to this meeting, but, to date, has not heard back from any of the other health experts. As a result, his study will be conducted independently of the AQMD study, but may be used to overlay with those results.

With the new revelations about elevated benzene levels at Aliso, he told the community, “these levels are very concerning to me.”

Dr. Nordella also described one over the counter medication that residents may want to investigate: N-acetylcysteine (NAC), which works by increasing the liver’s level of glutathione, an antioxidant.

He also mentioned that one study has been conducted in Colorado near a similar type of facility as Aliso that has found that the instances of AML rose 4.3 times higher within ten miles to the site

The doctor said he will be working with UC Berkeley and the blood testing will be conducted by Primex Clinical Laboratories at a cost of $7 per blood test. The resulting database will be HIPPA compliant, listing only the gender and age of each subject. Information about how to become part of this study will be made public as soon as the logistics have been established.