A massive gas leak blasting from Southern California Gas Company’s (SoCalGas) Aliso Canyon operations has California regulators worried about the potential environmental impact. But for months they have expressed little concern that the out-of-control leak might cause long-term health problems for those exposed to the odorless gas.
Independent experts, however, are saying residents in and around Porter Ranch, Calif., are possibly being exposed to high levels of benzene, a highly carcinogenic compound present in natural gas. Over time, benzene exposure could manifest as cancer or other illnesses.
The SoCalGas started erupting in October and currently engineers have no idea how they can stop the leak. State environmental authorities believe the gas could soon account for a quarter of all of California’s greenhouse emissions.
The disaster has been compared to BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in magnitude, only this time the leak is shooting invisibly into the sky above Southern California. As of last week, nearly 3,000 homes in Porter Ranch and the vicinity have been relocated and nearly 2,000 more are in the process of being moved to a safer area.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, South Coast Air Quality Management District’s tests found benzene levels exceeded the national average by eight times since October 26, just three days after the Porter Ranch leak started.
Benzene levels also exceeded state limits for prolonged exposure seven times in November, SoCalGas lab tests showed.
“When a substantial population of people are exposed to elevated levels of benzene, that should be a concern,” Dr. Michael Jerrett, professor and chairman of the UCLA Department of Environmental Health Sciences, told the Los Angeles Daily News.
Dr. Jerrett has linked benzene to lung cancer in previous studies, and although the risks of developing cancer are low, frequent exposure can result in a diminished red blood cell count, anemia, and other markers signifying benzene toxicity.
Benzene can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation and depression of the central nervous system. Public health officials say a relatively benign odorant in the gas, not benzene, is likely responsible for sickening residents of the Porter Ranch area.
Source: Los Angeles Daily News