“$25 million can purchase an awful lot of biased scientific data.”
“$25 million can purchase an awful lot of biased scientific data.” This was the message of caution by a physician who has been helping a community damaged by an environmental disaster.
On the third anniversary of the largest gas disaster in US history, the subject was health. And Dr. Jeffrey Nordella was one of the speakers at a press conference, joined by Alexandria Nagy of Food and Water Watch, Patricia Oliver, a lawyer representing a group of Los Angeles City firefighters, and Andrew Krowne and Craig Galanti, who are part of the newly organized Aliso Canyon Community Action Committee. The press conference was held by the entrance of the SoCalGas storage facility in Aliso Canyon, adjacent to the community of Porter Ranch.
The spotlight was on the recent announcement that 39 Los Angeles City firefighters and some of their spouses were suing SoCalGas for negligence, infliction of emotional distress, fraudulent concealment, and other counts due to the utility and the LA County Department of Public Health misleading them as to their health and safety during and after the 2015 Aliso Canyon blowout. In addition, the speakers addressed the gathered residents and media to demand that the public health agency have nothing to do with the $25-million health study allotted in the Aliso settlement announced on August 8, 2018.
Nagy mentioned the roadblocks that residents have been encountering during the last three years in trying to hold the government accountable. She pointed to the County Health Department’s continual deception of the community, and now delineated in last week’s complaint of the LA city firefighters.
Oliver, in explaining the new lawsuit, said that the members of Fire Station 28, which is located just two miles from the damaged well, sought guidance from Public Health when they started getting symptoms after the blowout began. Representatives of Public Health, along with SoCalGas, told them there was no hazard and that natural gas is not toxic. Because of this assertion, the first responders didn’t don protective gear while responding to calls. (It’s important to note that LA City firefighters serve on 24-hour shifts at a time.)
“As far as benzene, we know they were testing using inferior equipment and standards that were too high that would impact human health. And yet still they stood behind SoCalGas to make sure their message was consistent,” she added.
Craig Galanti, a member of the Aliso Canyon Community Action Committee, said about Public Health’s deception regarding the health effects, “Whether it was intentionally or incompetently done, leading our heroic firefighters into harm’s way is literally the straw that broke this community’s back,” adding that the agency should have suggested the first responders take appropriate precautions to protect themselves from possible chemical and gas exposures.
Referring to a letter sent to health providers by the Public Health department in March 2016 that instructed doctors not to conduct toxicological tests, he told the story of when a resident brought a family member suffering unexplained symptoms into the emergency room. When they asked the doctor to order certain tests as they live near Aliso, the physician used Dr. Cyrus Rangan’s letter as a reason to refuse.
Bringing up the deposition this year in which it was confirmed that benzene was found at the wells at 10,000 times higher than is advisable, Galanti asked, “Don’t they (Public Health) want to know what was in the largest methane release ever?’
He also mentioned one issue that needs to be discussed before a health study is scoped out: what happened to the data from a wind study that was conducted two years ago in order that money isn’t spent unnecessarily to redo that study.
In addition, Galanti brought up that a whistleblower (James Mansdorfer) had warned of a catastrophic event that may result in many deaths if a major quake occurs. He also pointed out the World Health Organization had stated that there are no safe levels of benzene, which contradicts what Public Health has stated on many occasions.
“Public Health has lost its moral compass,” said Galanti, adding that the residents are seeking a suitable solution to ensure a transparent, unbiased, and scientifically sound health study. “We deserve no less.”
Another member of the newly formed ACCAC and a member of the Porter Ranch Neighborhood Council board, Andrew Krowne, spoke next. He posed the question, “SoCalGas does not know what chemicals are in the air so how is it that SoCalGas claims there’s no health effects?” He repeated the theme that the policy of Public Health is “don’t test, don’t find.”
“The actions of LA Public Health had directly impacted, not just the residents and businesses, but our first responders. They’re heroes. Their job is to run into danger, not away from it,” Krowne said. He also posed the question of who oversees the actions of Public Health or whether their actions directed from above. He pointed out that the department falls under the auspices of the County Board of Supervisors. “The onus is on Kathryn Barger. Over the last two years we’ve asked repeatedly to meet with Kathryn. She will not meet with us, her constituents who were poisoned on a large scale. Where’s her urgency?”
He questioned the judgement in building a new park just a half mile away from the gas storage facility. One that can pose a danger for children to play in and be exposed to whatever toxins are in the environment.
As for plans to have Public Health involved with the health study, Krowne said, “Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice, shame on me. The department of Public Health has fooled this community numerous times. Why would we even trust them with something as important as a $25 million health study?”
Next up was Dr. Jeffrey Nordella, who has been conducting testing of residents and, now, the firefighters. He said there are three questions that usually come up for patients: What is the truth?, who can I believe?, and is it safe?
He feels what is going on with the firefighters is a major cover up. “I would go beyond the ‘don’t look, don’t tell.”
He explained he’s in phrase four of the medical surveillance study. He pointed out that cancer doesn’t become cancer overnight so it’s important to study blood differentials and monitor the changes over time. He is trying to transpose the results he’s finding with the National Cancer Database of types of hematological cancers.
Nordella mentioned his frustrations with working with the agencies. “We have heard a promise from regulators for total collaboration. We have stumbled on a finding from residents’ hair samples. Those were lithium and uranium, so we tested the water.” He had invited a Department of Water and Power representative to the March 2018 town hall, but added that he hasn’t heard back.
As for the $25 million health study, he asked, “Do we really want public health to have control of these funds?”
Nagy wrapped up the press conference by summing up the point about the health study that Public Health cannot be the head agency of the study. She also stated that a steering committee that is composed of a majority of community members should be involved with making decisions about the study.
Here’s the Los Angeles firefighters’ complaint against SoCalGas.
Here’s Dr. Nordella’s presentation to the community in March 2018: